Herbert Simon Love of Reading Project*

The Herbert Simon Family Foundation, in partnership with the Central Indiana Community Foundation, is embarking on a new effort to promote a love of reading and increase grade-level reading literacy attainment for Indianapolis Public Schools elementary school students.  

*This project is yet to be officially named and Love of Reading is the project’s working title.


Reading proficiency by third grade is a determining factor of high school graduation and career success. Yet every year, about 67 percent of children nationwide miss this crucial milestone, and more than 80 percent of those children come from low-income families. Studies have linked low reading proficiency in the early grades to poor outcomes in high school, multi-generational poverty, and less engaged community residents. National movements such as The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and foundations like The Annie E. Casey Foundation have been leading efforts and research to ensure all students are ready to learn by fourth grade within an ecosystem of comprehensive support. The underlying factors are many, the consequences are long-term, AND we believe potential solutions are multi-faceted requiring sustained co-created efforts across sectors, agencies, and constituencies.


In pursuit of an intentional philanthropic investment and partnership that could disrupt the current reading literacy crisis, we engaged with local and national thought partners and stakeholders representing early learning, K-12, higher education, and adult literacy communities; not-for-profit organizations; public libraries; design firms; researchers and publishing companies. This 18-month concept exploration and program development process that included:

  • 100+ hours of research
  • 30+ Individual and group interviews
  • 15+ Planning sessions and site visits

The goals of the research and development phase were focused on a) understanding the depth and complexity of the undercurrents that contribute to the youth reading literacy crisis, b) visioning meaningful possibilities to “do philanthropy” with and not to communities, and c) identifying the intersection of highest impact to shift grade-level reading attainment outcomes for elementary students.

We know that the undercurrents that exist beneath the surface of low literacy among our youth are many, including factors related to early learning supports; optimized health and wellness; under-resourced families, schools and communities; chronic absenteeism; schooling practices; and adult low literacy, to name a few. We also know there are many assets and strengths that can collectively change the tide of youth reading literacy, which is where we place our attention.


Increase grade-level reading attainment in elementary school children by cultivating a love of reading through an integrated framework co-created with families, schools, and communities.


One pathway to increase grade-level reading literacy is to cultivate a love of reading through an integrated family, school, and community approach. To assist elementary schools in cultivating a love of reading in students, the Herbert Simon Family Foundation, in partnership with the Central Indiana Community Foundation, will provide grant-funded support for up to three Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) elementary schools to join this effort during the two-year pilot phase and implement the Love of Reading Project. All eligible elementary schools have the opportunity to apply for consideration. Selected schools will engage in a participatory planning process to co-create a customized strategy using these five core project components as a guide:

  • BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS – increased access to a range of age- appropriate books for school and home
  • PHYSICAL SPACE – re-imagined and re-designed physical space
  • HUMAN RESOURCES – dedicated staff to support grade-level reading attainment and cultivate a love of reading
  • OUT-OF-SCHOOL TIME (OST) & TWO-GENERATION PROGRAMMING – two-generation programming that builds capacity to address low reading literacy

WHO can apply for participation In the Project?

Minimum eligibility requirements to apply for and participate in this project:

Elementary schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools district (including traditional, innovation, and autonomous schools) that:

  • have been in full operation for at least one full school year prior to application;
  • serve a student population with at least 60% from low-income households;
  • agree to the participatory action planning approach, project core components, project team requirements, planning timeline, and implementation schedule;
  • commit to the full pilot through June 2021; and
  • sent a delegate to attend one of the required info session in September 2018

Preference will be given to schools that exhibit the following traits and competencies:

  • have been fully operational for at least two years prior to application;
  • commitment and demonstrated capacity to improving grade-level reading outcomes for all elementary students, including efforts aimed at addressing chronic absenteeism, suspension/expulsion rates, and family/community engagement;
  • track record of utilizing quantitative and qualitative data to inform practices, policies, and procedures;
  • proven history of seeking input from and engaging with diverse stakeholders, including students, staff, teachers, families, and community members;
  • value an integrated approach to co-creating cutting-edge solutions for our youth;
  • understand the benefit of continuous learning among colleagues
  • possess the capacity to strategically assess ‘what is’ AND has the vision to explore possibilities of ‘what if’

WHAT are the key components of the Project?

Re-imagined and re-designed physical space to serve as a vibrant, inviting, and fun hub for:

  • Students and their families to enjoy books
  • Peers to collaborate and learn together
  • Teachers, reading specialists, and volunteers to provide support to all learners
  • Community partners to provide programming and resources that build a family’s capacity to support their child’s reading success
  • Extended access to a literacy-rich environment during out-of-school time

Additional full-time staff (2) dedicated to grade-level reading attainment to:

  • Provide dedicated reading supports to all students
  • Oversee/support development of school and home book collection
  • Coordinate school-day and OST programming
  • Serve as advocate for promoting a “love of reading” culture in the school

Increased access to expanded book collection at school and home to:

  • Ensure all students have opportunity to choose a wide range of grade-level appropriate titles and reading materials at home and at school.

Expanded whole family and OST programming that will focus on:

  • Integration of OST programs with grade-level reading attainment goals
  • Two-generation programming that builds capacity to address critical factors impacting low reading literacy in youth and adults

Technical assistance and capacity building support for school-based project teams will include:

  • Project development tools, resources, and guidance
  • Space design consultation
  • Collection and development support and guidance
  • Financial resources to support planning time and needs

HOW does the Project Intend to achieve Its goals?

WITH schools, families, and communities THROUGH Participatory Action Planning

During the two-year pilot phase, the Participatory Action Planning approach will utilize a “build-measure-learn” feedback loop process to inform the:

  • Continued development of the project’s core components and implementation process during each stage of the pilot
  • Selection of essential metrics and outcomes that maximize the reading outcomes for students
  • Validated learning process to ensure the project incorporates what matters most


To ensure maximum potential for success and ongoing continuity of programming, each selected school is required to form an internal project team as a part of the application process. The core project team should consist of three to five staff who will engage in participatory action planning and project execution for the duration of the pilot. Applicants are advised to prudently evaluate the selection of internal school project teams to ensure each member has the capacity to fully engage, as the planning phase will be robust and fast-paced. The planning phase will require monthly meetings with the Love of Reading project director, continuous planning sessions with the internal school project team, meetings with other consultants or contractors as needed in customizing the project’s elements to each school’s population. Active participation and adherence to deadlines in each phase of development is critical. Principals are required to serve on the project team; however, we encourage principals to serve in an advisory role due to additional time constraints. The entire project team must participate in round-two interviews during the application process.

WHEN will the Project launch?

Implementation of Two-Year Pilot in Schools During 2019-2020 and 2020-2021


Phase I Sept. 2018 – Jan. 2019 Application + Selection
Phase II Feb. – July 2019 Planning + Design
Phase III Aug. 2019 Project Launch
Phase IV Aug. 2019 – June 2021 Project Implementation