Our Impact: Using Reading to Engage Our Youngest Students and Their Families

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"Reading gives us a place to go when we have to stay where we are.” – Mason Cooley

Reading with a child is one of the most important things a parent or caregiver can do to set their child up for success. Last year, the Myerstown Library launched its Raising a Reader program in partnership with Jackson Elementary School to help Kindergarten students in the ELCO School district improve their reading skills.

The greatest predictor of literacy is how much time parents or caregivers spend with children in shared learning experiences. Recent trends have shown that Title I schools, like Jackson Elementary, have only 60% of students reading at grade-level. Programs like Raising a Reader help to bridge that gap and develop critical literacy skills for young children.

With the help of a $20,000 grant from United Way of Lebanon County, the Myerstown Library began distributing Raising a Reader books directly to kindergarten students at Jackson elementary. 70 children and 67 families in the ELCO School District are served by the program.

Raising a Reader is a proven early literacy and family engagement program, grounded in more than 25 years of early childhood development research. The program is designed to foster healthy brain development, enhance early literacy and language skills, promote and strengthen family engagement, and foster independent reading motivation in children.

Beginning at the start of the 2019-2020 school year, Jackson Elementary school students received a red book bag every Monday containing two to three books from a list given to parents at the start of the program. Parents also received educational materials with tips about how to get the most educational value out of reading with children. Families were encouraged to read with their children every evening and return the bag of books at the end of the week.

Every week, families are provided with new award-winning books, and educational resources to help parents engage with their children through reading. The books chosen for the program use rich language to promote brain development. The program helps to build excitement around reading for children and families. A series of Family Nights at the library help parents respond to their child’s signals and set developmentally appropriate expectations. The themed events included story time, activities and extra training for parents about how to engage with children while reading aloud.

On average, children are exposed to about 100 books through the program. Children are introduced to new ideas and are encouraged to further explore topics that interest them, which fosters internal reading motivation.

Sharing books and reading aloud to young children is one of the best activities to stimulate language and cognitive skills and is proven to build motivation, curiosity and memory. The program also helps families to develop home learning habits that encourage family bonding. These habits help children associate reading with pleasure and help families create a literacy rich environment regardless of their own language and reading proficiency.

Because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Raising a Reader program needed to be adapted. The books and book bags are now exchanged every 2 weeks instead of every week to allow for a quarantine period. This helps to ensure the safety of library staff, school personnel and families receiving the books. Additionally, Family Nights were held virtually via zoom instead of in-person at the Myerstown Library.

United Way of Lebanon County is working to improve childhood literacy community wide. Strong reading skills are fundamental for children to succeed in all areas of school. In 2019, United Way of Lebanon County also launched its Reading Friends program, which connected community volunteers with local classrooms to read to students during school. In the first year of the program, volunteers logged 276 hours of reading to elementary school children, boosting both their skills and confidence. This was BEFORE the pandemic forced the program to be put on hold.

Continuing the Raising a Reader program, and other literacy initiatives, is vital during this time of uncertainty. No matter what is happening in the world, Literacy and reading skills are critical for children. Getting books into the hands of kids and giving opportunities for families to interact in a positive learning environment is what Raising a Reader is all about. The program provides families the opportunity to engage with school and library staff, share reading experiences together and find ways to support their children at home, in school or in a combination of both.

Last school year, Kindergarten students at Jackson Elementary School showed huge improvements in literacy and fluency metrics. Increased time spent reading through The Raising a Reader program was also linked to higher achievements scholastically.

In this short video, kindergartener, Lucas, and his mom, Beth, share their enthusiasm about the Raising a Reader program.

To help support kids like Lucas as they learn to read, donate to United Way of Lebanon County. Support for our social services are critical during this time of crisis. Your gift to United Way supports early education, youth development, adult and family stability, and basic needs like healthcare and housing for our local neighbors in need.

With a single gift, you can make a difference in the lives of hundreds of community members. Thank you for being a force for change in our community as we reimagine, rebuild and recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

Donate to United Way of Lebanon County