From Playgrounds to Jail Cells: How Reading Can Help Flip the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Children need space to learn, grow and play. Our communities and schools work together to provide safe places for this to happen. Recreational activities, socialization and cultural differences all work together to build the character and personality of our children.

So where do we go wrong when children’s playgrounds turn into jail cells?

It begins as early as third grade when the work of the school-to-prison pipeline goes into play. Third grade is the next biggest milestone after Kindergarten. It’s during this time in a child and family’s life that they learn about the academic progress of their child in regards to standardized testing results that are used to provide a blueprint of the child’s academic success.

How Parents Can Be Proactive

I like to remind parents of the importance of transition from one grade level to the next. Let’s look at how parents can be proactive about ensuring their children make it through the school-to-college pipeline and not school to prison. A resource to both school leaders and parents are family engagement best practices (The Advancement Project has worked to call to an end of the school-to-prison pipeline to help our schools and families better prepare our children for success and not stats!) that support a healthy balance of parent empowerment so that children ages 0-4 can begin active learning from their first educators, their parents and family.

Pre-k helps prepare children for school through early learning and development strategies that are a critical piece to the academic success of our children. These years are critical because by third grade, students are expected to be able to meet and exceed state academic measures. Many parents aren’t aware that being unprepared in such critical years of development causes a lot of unwanted issues for them and their child.

One of the things that educational research speaks to in regards of early learning development is how important it is for parents and families to read to their children and allow them to read to them. In the cases of areas and communities that have high drop out rates, poverty, homelessness and high illiteracy rates, educational leaders have to be strategic about how to bridge the gap so that every family finds success for their child.

Literacy Is a Critical Piece of the Puzzle

Veronica Garcia discusses the importance of literacy in children who have been targeted for the school-to-prison pipeline and how it should be reinforced and supported more.

Literacy is a critical piece to the puzzle of how children who aren’t exposed to reading at an early age become targets of the school-to-prison pipeline. Over 22 percent of Black males that are incarcerated are high school drop outs. In fact, the literacy rates on Black and Brown children in the Metro Atlanta area and around the state are low.

Literacy is the most critical core area that connects to all learning disciplines and impacts our decision making, critical thinking skills, processing and soft skill set. The way that we engage families and communities is what changes the dynamics of data to this pipeline. Reading is fundamental and it’s the best way to keep more of our children on pathways of success and not prison.

Parents must be intentionally engaged in the learning process before school starts. States and school districts can develop better relationships with early learning and development centers, churches and communities to ensure that parents are taking the steps need to ensure their children are getting a healthy balance of learning, recreation and socialization.


Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.

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