Submitted by the Kiwanis Club of Dalton
During Monday’s meeting at the trade center, members of the Kiwanis Club of Dalton received an overview of the local Readers to Leaders program designed to make the community a better place to work and live.
The group was told that work is under way in support of a 2012 joint proclamation by city of Dalton and Whitfield County leaders. In that proclamation, government leaders agreed “to provide resources and support our city and county schools and families with the goal of improving early reading proficiency and helping all of our children achieve grade level reading status by the end of grade three.”
Three weeks later, more than 2,000 people packed the Mack Gaston Community Center in support of the goals.
Merry Boggs, elementary curriculum director for Whitfield County Schools, explained that the program was a result of the University of Georgia Archway program, which is “designed to help a community develop its highest priority needs and link those needs to the resources of the University of Georgia system.”
“Dalton-Whitfield became an Archway community in November 2009,” said Boggs.
The following year, the community used the Archway partnership as a vehicle to look at needs. Hundreds of individuals from throughout the community were questioned.
“During that visioning process, we heard that education ranks among the community’s top three concerns,” Boggs added.
Kiwanians were told that literacy is more important than reading.
“Literacy encompasses thinking, problem solving, numerical literacy and scientific literacy,” she said. “This commitment is about developing the whole child.”
“We all have a dog in this fight,” said Pam Partain, the program’s coordinator. “I work at Dalton State College and we have an interest in having well-prepared high school graduates who are ready for the rigors of college work.”
Partain said the group’s objective is to “have all the children reading on grade level at an early age and to keep them on track until they enter the workforce.”
Lisa Hackney, literacy coordinator for Dalton Public Schools, said the community is supporting literacy outside of the classroom. She explained that literacy begins in the home.
“Teachers have their children for a small part of the day,” she said.
Two University of Georgia researchers held several local training sessions last year to help teachers think about how to build better connections between the home and the school to make those partnerships stronger.
Dalton and Whitfield County school systems coordinate pre-k registration together. While parents were going through paperwork, Hackney said a children’s event created by Marlen Rodriguez, an AmeriCorps Vista coordinator, included a children’s corner.
“Most importantly, she created a parent packet that included tips on how to prepare a child for preschool with literacy and learning activities,” said Hackney.
Educators are also working on limiting the gap that is created as students lose a little piece of their learning while off for summer.
“As an educator for many years, I know that you started the school year with the review of the things the kids are supposed to know,” Hackney said. “It’s a huge gap in our educational system that we’re working on.”
Summer reading activities at the Dalton-Whitfield County Library are part of the plan.
“They’ve outgrown the little story time place, and they are spilling over into the library, Hackney said. “There is so much excitement over there.”
Dalton Public Schools started Big Red Reads several years ago. “The students take the trolley around to different locations every Wednesday,” said Hackney. “There are some books you keep, and there are some books you check out and then you need to bring them back.”
With coordination from Rodriguez, the idea has expanded this year.
“Whitfield County has launched a Lunch and Learn,” said Hackney. “This happens every day at all of the different feeding locations where the children get the free lunches. Children are given books, and they are given opportunities to read.”
Kiwanians were urged to become involved as volunteers. Rodriguez said she is one of 12 AmeriCorps VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America) in our community funded by a federal grant. The majority of these workers are posted at various school sites. She works with the Dalton library.
Rodriguez said the library has had a major outreach to parents of young children in both English and Spanish.
“They offer story times in various elementary schools and tell students, parents and teachers about the services offered at the library,” she said. “The library has also offered several walking field trips from nearby elementary schools. The children were able to register for a library card. The parents and the children were amazed at how many books they can check out, take home and share with their families.”
The summer reading program began on June 1.
The library’s story times are three times a week with an average of 116 attendees. The events include story tellers, illustrators and visits from the Chattanooga Zoo. A new summer program is aimed at sixth- through tenth-graders.
Melissa Lu of the Archway Partnership said the Kiwanis speakers “represent a literal army of citizens who have made this happen.”
Dixie Kinard was credited with “beating the drum” for attacking literacy at a very early age.
“I think a lot of times in our conversations we talk about third grade reading level, high school graduation rate, and we lose track of that really early age, zero to 5,” Lu said.
A position for a new Archway education professional was created.
“Katie Green is working with nonprofits in the community, church, and anybody else who is providing services and programs for the zero to 5 age group,” Lu said.
The second annual Celebration of Community Literacy is Thursday, July 18, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Mack Gaston Community Center. The event will include reading circles, crafts, information booths and healthy snacks. The center’s splash pad will be open from 6 to 7 p.m. for all who attend the celebration. Every child will leave with a free book.