The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

August 30, 2013

Joplin takes aim at childhood literacy

JOPLIN, Mo. — Bright Futures Joplin is looking to raise awareness of early childhood literacy.

A new initiative called Reading Matters, set to formally kick off in November, will aim to highlight the importance of reading to young children, said Peggy Fuller, chairwoman of the Bright Futures Joplin advisory board.

“What we’re trying to do, really, is start the conversation about the importance of reading to a child every day in their very early days,” she said.

Reading aloud to young children promotes language acquisition and is linked with literacy development, achievement in reading comprehension and overall success in school, according to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. One indicator of how well young children are prepared for school is how frequently they are read to by a family member, the group said.

“If you read to your child for about 30 minutes a day from the time they’re born until they go to kindergarten, it makes a big difference in their success for the rest of their lives,” Fuller said.

Fuller said the initiative will begin with a needs-based assessment of the Joplin community and a survey of the organizations that already work with literacy, such as the Joplin Public Library, Parents as Teachers and the Joplin Neighborhood Adult Literacy Action group. Volunteers are being sought to be part of this work, she said.

After the assessment is complete, the Reading Matters group will take stock of how or whether it can help bolster literacy rates of young children without overlapping the work that the other organizations are already doing, Fuller said.

The need for Reading Matters became evident after a recent Joplin Schools survey of its kindergarten teachers, she said.

“Our kindergarten teachers tell us that less than half of their entering students come to kindergarten prepared to learn how to read, and some of the things that they look for are letter recognition and sign recognition,” she said.

The Joplin School District is launching its own initiatives aimed at improving literacy rates.

A new districtwide effort will equip every preschool, kindergarten and first-grade classroom with between three and five Nook electronic readers each. The readers will be loaded with up to 50 books and will be available for students to check out to use at home.

The goal is to help get students excited about reading and to encourage parents to spend time reading with their children, district officials said.

“A lot of times, children don’t have books in the home,” said Lisa Orem, the district’s director of special services. “We know that parents like technology, and maybe they’ll pick that up and get involved.”

Melissa Thompson, a kindergarten teacher at West Central Elementary School, said this is the first time that her class has had electronic readers available to it. She plans to use them with her students in small groups during the school day and also send them home with students overnight.

“Whether we are doing it electronically or doing it with a hard copy, I think anytime we can get students excited about reading and get a book in their hand, it’s only going to help their success,” she said.

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