Fort Collins Read Aloud Tackles Illiteracy in Larimer County

Toby Swaford poses at his Fort Collins Read Aloud office.

Toby Swaford poses at his Fort Collins Read Aloud office.

Fort Collins Read Aloud (FCRA) has a big vision: 100 percent literacy in Larimer County. They want to encourage, educate and empower the communities of Larimer County with the tools necessary to ensure lifetime literacy for children.

Toby Swaford, AmeriCorps member and community engagement director at FCRA, is optimistic about reaching that goal.

“To quote the old Superman comics, it’s a never ending battle for truth, justice, and the literacy way, in this case. It’s pretty lofty but it’s a good vision, it’s a good goal to strive for, but it is going to be one of those never ending missions. But by being out there in the community, by providing support, and by showing how important it is as a gateway to the rest of your education, it is one of those goals that we will get closer and closer to as time goes by,” Swaford said.

One of the ways FCRA strives to reach this goal is by sending volunteers into the classroom to read aloud to children pre-k to third grade.

“One of the things that teachers have said about our volunteers is that we’re able to provide that one-on-one relationship with the children. It’s something that a classroom teacher doesn’t usually get to do. And we’re able to come in and spend a good fifteen, twenty minutes or so with that child. Our volunteers become buddies, reading partners,” Swaford said.

And the results of that one-on-one attention can be life changing for the children. Swaford told a story of a volunteer working with a student with dyslexia.

“When they were first working together, she had a very difficult time even discerning the words; the letters would get mixed up. But she’s gotten to the point now where she can read second grade level pretty fluently and will self correct. She transposes words and she’s very aware of that,” Swaford said.

This young lady’s teacher gives credit to the volunteer who has worked with her on a weekly basis to encourage and reinforce what she’s been doing. The relationship that forms shows students not only that reading is important, but also that the child has worth.

Evan Brengle, volunteer at FCRA, is passionate about books and has found that a literacy outreach was appealing to him.

“Volunteering with Read Aloud combines my love of books with my desire to invest my time and energy in something positive for the community.  Great stories can be very enriching of course, but basic literacy skills go far beyond entertainment.  They are crucial to an individual’s future academic, professional and even personal success.  I love the way that reading aloud with a kid can genuinely bring fun and education together.  The kids don’t even realize they’re learning when they are immersed in a story,” Brengle said.

The other way FCRA tackles the vision of 100% literacy is to provide books for people who need them through book drives and donations.

“Having books in the home is a really good way of encouraging reading, and we’ll come across a book deficit or book deserts in lower income areas sometimes. There may be one book on average for every six households of children. So having that accessibility to those books is also extremely important because even if you’ve learned to read, if you’re not practicing that, you’re never really going to get really fluent or comfortable with it,” Swaford said.

The statistics involving literacy in Larimer County are alarming.

“Within the overall Larimer County, I believe right now our illiteracy rate is right around 13 to 17 percent, which is a big number,” Swaford said.

Swaford said that some students are starting school with no literacy exposure. These students are three to four times more likely to not complete their education. The students who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade also are three to four times more likely to quit school before they hit graduation.

“The illiteracy rate for third grade pretty much mirrors the dropout rate for high school,” Swaford said.

FCRA is always looking for book donations and volunteers.

For more information about FCRA, please visit


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