Libraries and foundations across the region are stepping up their programs to promote reading and early learning as National Literacy Month draws to a close.
Local efforts include a program at Excela Westmoreland Hospital to make sure every new mother leaves with a first book for her child, a campaign in Norwin to enroll 6-year-olds in library cards, and partnerships to provide books through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in many other communities.
Norwin Library Director Diana Falk, who registers several hundred 6-year-olds each year for library cards through a partnership with the school district, said the effort is paying off now and in the ‘to come up.
“Getting your own library card is a rite of passage,” said Falk. “You should see how proud the kids are when they approach the desk for the first time. We will see families come together. When parents display their children in the library, it establishes a lifelong relationship with learning.
She said the Friends of the Library give each new cardholder a book to cement the relationship.
“And when they come here, they realize that there are thousands of books to explore,” Falk said.
Building an early relationship with reading has been recognized as a key weapon in combating functional illiteracy, a condition the National Center for Educational Statistics estimates that 43 million American adults struggle.
Experts say these struggles often leave these adults with little economic opportunity and can even result in unnecessary medical costs for those who simply aren’t proficient in reading. And no less authoritative than the American Academy of Pediatrics has said that third-grade reading fluency is one of the best predictors of high school graduation.
Recognizing the power of reading to change lives, singer-songwriter Dolly Parton called on her Dollywood Foundation to fund a program to put books in the hands of young people from birth to age five. years. Launched 26 years ago from Sevier County, Tennessee, Parton, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has grown to work with local partners and has sent over 160 million free books to children in the States. United, Canada, UK, Ireland and Australia. .
The program sends a free age-appropriate book once a month to children from birth to age five. Children registered at birth can receive up to 60 pounds as they age out of the program.
The Delmont Library and community and school foundations in the Derry area, the Ligonier Valley, the Mt. Pleasant area and the City of Pittsburgh have teamed up to participate in the program.
Almost 300 children receive a book in the mail each month in the Derry area, which launched its program in December.
“We received our 2,000th book last month and have already had 50 children graduating from the program,” said Dave McCleary.
McCleary, a learning support teacher in the Derry Area School District, introduced the concept to the Derry Area Education Foundation last year after discovering the Imagination Library by looking at a biography of Parton.
The Education Foundation has partnered with local Elks, the Catherine Mabis McKenna Foundation and local individuals to raise two years of seed funding to launch the program.
“The first book kids receive in the mail, regardless of age, is’ The Little Engine That Could ‘, and the last they receive right before they graduate is’ Watch out for kindergarten, I’m coming. “said McCleary.
“Parents are excited and kids are excited when they receive a book in the mail. Parents sent us pictures of children reading their books, ”said Sarah Mikeska, another teacher from the Derry area who has been actively involved in the program.
Delmont Library Director Denni Grassel recently partnered with the Michael John Kakos and Aimee Rusinko Kakos Foundation and local supporters to make Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library accessible to children in Delmont zip code 15626. To date, the library has enrolled around 20 children. He has the capacity to handle 15 or 20 more, Grassel said.
Although it is smaller than the school district programs, Grassel said it is gaining traction in the community and creating enthusiastic readers who return to the library time and time again.
“When I heard that the cost of sponsoring a child for a year in the program was $ 25, I said ‘Sign up’,” Grassel said.
“It’s a way to introduce kids to books and develop a lifelong love of learning. “
Greensburg Hempfield area library director Jamie Falo said the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and Rotary were in talks to expand the Dolly Parton program through the library’s Youngwood branch.
Jesse Sprajcar, of United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, said the agency has sponsored school readiness programs in Westmoreland County for two decades and was already a partner in the Mt. Pleasant program.
It’s in the early discussions on how to expand Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library across the county.
“The emphasis on reading and early literacy is very important to us,” he said.