The Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University, read 'You’re Here for a Reason' to the pre-K-2 students who attended NU's literacy camp this summer.

U.S. Census data shows that 72 percent of adults in Niagara and Erie counties read at a fourth grade level.

Niagara University is leading the charge toward stemming that tide through functional university-backed initiatives like the Niagara County Quality Improvement ProjectHelp Me Grow and the Primary Enhancement Program (literacy camp), which took place July 25-Aug. 4.

The Primary Enhancement Program is a collaborative effort between NU’s College of Education and the Niagara Falls City School District. The two-week summer program, now in its eighth year, enlists faculty and graduate students from the College of Education to work with campers daily from 9 a.m. to noon to enhance literacy skills. Participants also take weekly “field trips” to places such as the on-campus Post Office, Leary Theatre and Castellani Art Museum.

The goal of the program is to begin narrowing the achievement gap in terms of reading comprehension by utilizing university resources – namely faculty and graduate students – to improve the literacy skills of the area’s youngest struggling readers.

Primary Enhancement Program 2016

NU also offers a literacy minor as part of its undergraduate teacher training and a master’s degree program in literacy instruction.

“Our Catholic and Vincentian mission is to provide help to those in need. In this sense, we can fulfill that objective by providing much-needed interventions and skill-building in literacy to children from various backgrounds, which will increase their desire to read,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University.

On the third day of this year’s literacy camp, Father Maher read You’re Here for a Reason by Nancy Tillman to the pre-K-2 students, who attend Harry F. Abate, Hyde Park and Niagara Street elementary schools. Other Niagara University administrators who spent time reading to campers included Dr. Timothy Ireland, interim provost, and Dr. Chandra Foote, dean of the College of Education.

The annual program is coordinated by Dr. Mary Ellen Bardsley, chair of NU’s early childhood and childhood education department, and Dr. Kathleen McGrath, assistant professor of education and director of the university’s Family Literacy Center.

For more information on Niagara University’s College of Education, please visit