New Foundation program develops reading skills in young children
Read to Soar program prepares kids for school success
A free program soon to be offered in all Central Louisiana parishes is preparing young children for school success by cultivating a love for reading long before they set foot in a classroom. The Read to Soar early literacy program, recently developed under The Rapides Foundation’s Education Initiative and administered by The Orchard Foundation, has been presented in three Rapides Parish locations and began in four other parishes in June.
Read to Soar is a free, eight-session reading workshop for children ages birth to 5 and their parents or caregivers. The workshops help develop and strengthen a culture of reading at home by educating parents, building a child's home library and increasing awareness about community resources to help ensure the child has the tools for school success. By the end of the program, children get a certificate of participation and 40 new books to adorn their home library while parents come away with tips and resources that help them teach their young ones.
“At The Rapides Foundation, our mission is to improve the health status of Central Louisiana, and our Education Initiative recognizes the correlation between the health of an individual and educational attainment,” said Joe Rosier, President and CEO of The Rapides Foundation. “Research tells us that people with higher education levels are healthier and live longer, so it’s important for us to invest a portion of our funding in the area of education.”
The Orchard Foundation’s Early Childhood Literacy Program Coordinator Rebekah Simpson leads a Read to Soar workshop.
Read to Soar is a concerted effort to reach out to children ages birth to 5 years old before they enter kindergarten to ensure success throughout their entire school careers. It’s part of the Education Initiative’s School Readiness component. The early literacy program complements the other work being done in the area of School Readiness, providing professional development institutes for Cenla public school pre-K teachers, and Head Start and childcare providers who are participating in the state of Louisiana’s effort to expand access to high-quality, publicly funded early childhood education programs.
“We know how important it is at the pre-K and kindergarten level that a child comes ready and prepared in order for them to be successful and move forward in school. So we had to think of the best way to get a child kindergarten ready, and in order to do that you have to focus on birth to 5,” said Marjorie Taylor, Executive Director of The Orchard Foundation.
“Reading is the most critical indicator of school success, especially in those early grades. If we can get pre-K and kindergarten students coming in that have already developed strong reading habits -- they may not know how to read but they’ll be coming from homes that focus on reading -- then the more successful that child will be,” she said. “The further we can take them through school, the higher their educational attainment level is going to be, and therefore the healthier they should be.”
Read to Soar is intentionally designed to focus on both the child and the parent or caregiver. “Parents and caregivers should develop structures in their home where they are focused on reading to the children so that the children create a desire to read. They should have books in the home to read, which is a benefit of this program. Read to Soar helps create that library of books within the home and also gives parents or caregivers some tools they can use to develop an early desire for reading,” Taylor said.
Alexandria resident Marquand Coleman’s 4-year-old son, Zephaniah, had little interest in reading when she saw a Read to Soar flier about an upcoming training session while studying at the Martin Luther King Junior Branch Library. Coleman, a single mom who attends LSUA and works shifts at the movie theater to make ends meet and pay for his daycare, brought Zephaniah to all eight sessions.
The Orchard Foundation’s Early Childhood Literacy Program Coordinator Rebekah Simpson works with Marquand and Zephaniah Coleman.
“He wants to read all of his books every day. Before we came to the program, he wasn’t doing that. He didn’t want me to read to him. But that changed after he came to the program. He wants me to read all of his books,” she said. “I feel like he will be more than ready for school. He will be prepared.”
Coleman said she makes sacrifices in order to give Zephaniah an education. It’s a lesson she learned from her own parents. “It’s important for my son to have an education because I want him to go farther than me in life. I want him to strive for more, and knowledge is everything.”
She recommends the program for people who want a better life for their kids. “I highly recommend it. I know everybody has things they have to do and they can’t always do certain things, but when it comes to your children, you have to do it to better them,” she said.
The eight Read to Soar sessions follow early childhood education best practices and are specifically tailored for Central Louisiana. The Orchard Foundation’s Early Childhood Literacy Program Coordinator Rebekah Simpson, who runs the program, selects the activities and 40 books that go home with the participants. “I try to get a variety so the parents can find out what their kids like. That’s part of the class, educating the parent.”
The Read to Soar program was recently offered in two Alexandria locations, and it is now being held in Pineville. To expand the reach, The Orchard Foundation contracted with four early literacy specialists who will teach Read to Soar throughout Central Louisiana. This paved the way for four summer workshops that began in June in Grant, LaSalle, Vernon and Winn parishes. Additional workshops will be scheduled in the future. For more information, call The Orchard Foundation at 318-767-3029.
The workshops are for up to 15 families at a time. Parents can bring multiple children, although only one set of books goes home with each family. Families get books after each session. By the end of the eight sessions, participants will receive a grand total of 40 books and a book bag.
Each workshop focuses on a different topic area. Topics include brain development/social and emotional connection; proper book-handling skills; meaningful conversations, building vocabulary; phonological awareness, which is the ability to hear and manipulate sound structure within words; print awareness, which consists of identifying letters, concepts of print and understanding how print conveys meaning; foundations of reading; and emergent writing.
“We are constantly getting positive feedback,” Simpson said. “A lot of the kids are loving it and the parents and caregivers are loving it too.”
The workshops are designed to be fun, giving participants a chance to bond with their kids in a learning environment. “It’s a literacy program. The idea is we’re building their home library and we’re teaching them how to read to their kids and learn how their kids learn. That’s the whole idea behind this, but there’s also this bonding factor that we want the adults and children to have together,” she said. “We get in our daily schedule so much that we forget to take the time to get to know each other and have some fun time together, but it can be educational.”