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ST. LOUIS – University City has a new Believe Project literacy lab. It is at Pershing Elementary School. The students are greeted with a cheerfully decorated room that has more than one thousand books.

Organizers say 90% of the characters or authors are people of color. The lab is designed to improve reading proficiency especially in students in grades K-3.

“We do see gaps with our students. I don’t think it’s an achievement gap. It is about opportunity and access to quality instruction, to amazing teachers, to rich curricular resources, to books,” says Sharonica Hardin-Bartley, Superintendent of University City School District.

The Believe Project literacy lab is an initiative of the St. Louis Black Authors of children’s literature.

“This space is supposed to elicit the joy of reading in all of the children. That’s what we want. This is a space for them to see themselves,” said Julius B. Anthony, St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature.

Research shows if students are not strong readers in third grade they are four times more likely to drop out of school. The literacy lab is funded primarily by the Opportunity Trust which provided a grant to cover teacher training and the transformation of the room.