WGTE program aids early literacy educationWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: Toledo Free Press, United Way of Greater Toledo and 13abc’s “Bridges” with Doni Miller are profiling 12 education initiative programs in Northwest Ohio. This is the 10th story in the series.
Imagine a child entering kindergarten not knowing how to hold a book or turn its pages, or not knowing that text is read left to right, top to bottom.
That is the situation some area students find themselves in, but an early literacy program run by WGTE aims to ensure kids are getting the literary exposure they need to start school right.
First Book gives away about 2,850 books each year, mainly to children ages 3 to 5, said Kathy Smith, WGTE’s director of early learning and outreach.
“What it really is at its root is putting books in the hands of kids who normally would not have the opportunity to own a book of their own,” Smith said. “If you don’t know [how a book works] when you come to kindergarten then you have to learn that before you can even begin to learn what letters are, or what they sound like, or what letters rhyme, or what a word actually means.”
From kindergarten through third grade, children are learning to read, but from fourth grade on, they are reading to learn, Smith said.
“If they are not fairly fluent by the beginning of fourth grade, it’s really easy to shut down and not be successful in school and in life,” Smith said. “It’s critical that kids come to school with some skills to build on so they can really hit the ground running.”
WGTE partners with organizations that work with low-income families, stipulating that at least 75 percent of the children receiving books be living at or below the poverty level, Smith said.
Since September, First Book has distributed 2,151 books through 13 organizations in Lucas, Ottawa and Wood counties.
WGTE does more than just give books away, however. At each presentation, which happens twice a year, WGTE also does a literary activity called a “story stretcher,” Smith said. For example, a book about a duckling might also include watching a TV program about ducks, drawing pictures of ducks or taking a field trip to watch them swim, she said.
“It’s that ‘read, view, do’ format we do a lot because children learn in a variety of ways,” Smith said. “There needs to be some way to make that story come alive for children.”
Each child is also sent home with an activity sheet developed by WGTE that corresponds with their new book. The activity sheet is meant to involve parents in the reading process, prompting questions to ask while reading and ideas for related projects using common household items.
WGTE has activity sheets for more than 200 books, which are available on its website. Local nonprofit Adelante has translated some of them into Spanish, said WGTE’s School Readiness Specialist Sally Brinkman.
Research has shown that children in low-income families are exposed to significantly fewer words than children in middle- or high-income families, Smith said. Books introduce new vocabulary as well as allow for quality time together, she said.
“This is sometimes a way for parents and children to experience a little time together that’s more than just business language, like ‘Go to bed,’ ‘Brush your teeth, ‘Let the dog out,’” Smith said.
Many times, even if parents can’t read, older brothers and sisters will read to younger siblings so the program improves the reading fluency of older children as well, Smith said.
First Book was started in the mid-1990s, federally funded through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. When that funding ended, United Way stepped up.
“We had to scale the program back, but we felt that it was too valuable to not do it at all,” Smith said.
The program operates on $12,700 in funding — $7,700 from United Way and $5,000 from Owens-Illinois — at a cost of about $5 per child, Smith said.
One of First Book’s partner organizations is the East Toledo Family Center. Cheryl Amborski, child care coordinator for the preschool, said the children always look forward to getting their books.
“You can see the excitement when they say ‘I get to take this home? It belongs to me?’” Amborski said. “So many in our community don’t have the opportunity to get books; they’re worried about buying groceries. This gives them that extra contact with books. If it’s a library book, you might read it once, but when it’s yours, you have the opportunity to read it over and over. It helps to have that repetition.”
For more information, visit www.wgte.org or contact Smith at email@example.com or (419) 380-4638.