Literacy grants: Community foundation supports reading initiatives
The Carroll County Community Foundation is working with local school districts to teach kids a love of reading.
A press release from the Carroll County Community Foundation, the local affiliate of the Arkansas Community Foundation, says the nonprofit is presenting Grade-Level Reading (GLR) Initiative Grants to Berryville, Eureka Springs and Green Forest elementary schools. The initiative was created to support programs in Carroll County that work to increase literacy and reading proficiency in preschool to third-grade students, the release says. The first-year focus of the grants is to elevate grade-level reading proficiency in the local public school system, according to the release.
The release says ACT Aspire data from the 2016-17 school year showed only 37 percent of Arkansas third-graders achieved “proficient” reading scores. Research shows from kindergarten to third grade students are “learning to read,” the release says, but by third grade children transition to “reading to learn.”
Third-grade reading levels are a critical predictor of later success in life, the release says, which is why the Arkansas Community Foundation and all 28 affiliate foundation offices partnered with the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to focus grant dollars on projects aimed at increasing early literacy skills.
The foundation can fully fund all three schools’ grant applications this year, the release says, with the help of donations from Anstaff Bank, Cornerstone Bank, Equity Bank, First National Bank of North Arkansas, New Leaf Publishing Group and local individuals.
“This GLR grant truly is a collaborative community effort thanks to our generous donors,” said Janell Robertson, executive director of the Carroll County Community Foundation. “It is encouraging to learn how the schools have been working to address this issue and how they plan to use these grant funds to creatively expand their programs.”
The release says each grant application uniquely addressed one or more of the following five issues that can affect a student’s reading proficiency: parent and community engagement, school readiness, classroom instruction, chronic absence prevention and intervention or summer learning loss prevention.
Robertson said the Arkansas Community Foundation holds programs to support what its local affiliates are doing in order to give back to the community.
“They came to all of their affiliates and told us they wanted us to create this grade-level reading grant initiative,” she said. “They said they would give us so much money if we could match that money, so the Carroll County Community Foundation did.”
Robertson said the local community foundation formed a committee to review its options on how to promote the grade-level reading initiative.
“We decided to go to the public schools first because they are the ones proactively addressing this issue right now,” she said. “I got to speak with all three of the superintendents several times. I was very impressed with what they’re doing and how they’re taking care of this issue.”
Across the state, Robertson said, kindergarteners are not ready for school.
“We’re finding that kids aren’t being read to as much anymore,” she said, “so we wanted to support what the schools are doing with the money from our main office and from our Carroll County office. We went out and talked to all of the banks, and some of them as well as New Leaf Publishing Group supported us.”
Robertson said other companies in the area are considering donating to the grade-level reading initiative as well.
“Each one of the schools has come up with some fabulous programs,” she said.
Robertson said the Arkansas Community Foundation is working to address one issue within its Aspire Arkansas project each year. She said Aspire Arkansas looks at four main issues: education, families, health and communities.
She said the Carroll County Community Foundation will offer the GLR Initiative Grants again next year, broadening its reach and opening it up to local nonprofits focused on education.
“We’re so excited to partner with the schools on this,” Robertson said. “We can all address this by talking to our kids, reading to our children, reading to kids at our churches or in our neighborhoods and donating use children’s books to food banks so they can give them out to low-income families.”
Berryville will focus on preschools, school readiness and parent engagement, according to the release.
School improvement specialist Christy Graham said she and K-5 literacy instructional facilitator Heather Ogden met with elementary school principal Kelly Swofford to brainstorm what kind of programs they would like to offer before writing the grant.
“Ours will address grade-level reading with a focus on preschool,” Graham said, “so we’re going to give $1,000 to the Holiday Island Rotary Club’s Imagination Library project.”
She said the Holiday Island Rotary Club is sponsoring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library for Carroll County, which mails high-quality age-appropriate books directly to children’s homes. The grant contribution will help the program extend into Berryville, Graham said.
“Berryville is going to roll out a big reading initiative this year. It’s a big reason we wrote the grant,” she said. “It will be K-12, but the grant money will be used at the preschool and kindergarten level.”
“With the grant, we’ll get some prizes for students, have some reading competitions, have some authors visit and get some books for students,” Ogden said.
She said Berryville Elementary School is also creating a parent resource center that will have educational materials and games parents can use at home to help build their children’s vocabulary and phonemic awareness.
“We’re going to try to put some games in there so parents can check them out to work on the pre-reading skills that the kids need,” Graham said.
She said the Arkansas Depart of Education (ADE) recently started the Reading Initiative for Student Excellence (R.I.S.E.), which aims to foster a love of reading in children and promote community involvement.
“With this grant money and the reading initiative, our real goal is to try to get the community involved, too,” Graham said. “We’re thinking about doing some of those little houses where you bring a book and take a book.”
She said Berryville will be selling t-shirts with phrases promoting reading at the schools and in the community.
“They’ll have different phrases like ‘My weekend is booked’ or ‘Just one more chapter,’ ” said Ogden.
“We’re going to have days where teachers can wear their reading t-shirt and a pair of jeans to promote reading,” Graham said. “We’ve also started our R.I.S.E. training this year, which is about getting kids to love reading, getting the community involved and teaching the teachers about the science of reading and how kids really learn to read based on brain images they’ve taken.”
Ogden said these programs are all about getting books in the hands of families that may not have that privilege.
“We live in a very high-poverty area,” she said. “Some kids see books, and it’s nothing. Some kids don’t even see books, so if we can put them in the homes before the kids start kindergarten it might start start the love of reading even earlier.”
Ogden continued, “We’re so thankful for the community foundation donating the money.”
Graham said Berryville is trying to motivate its students to read.
“They seem to quit reading after middle schools, and we want all students K-12 to be readers. That’s the goal,” she said. “This grant will help us out a lot. There are some things we wouldn’t have been able to do without the money.”
Graham continued, “We want to implement some ‘drop everything and read’ events where everyone reads at the same time. We also want to put magazines and newspapers in the classrooms at the high school level because it doesn’t have to be books. It can be anything. We just want them to read.”
Instructional facilitator Chrys McClung said Eureka Springs Elementary School will be using the grant funds to participate in the One School, One Book program, which encourages and enables reading together at home by providing every school with tools, resources, guidance and support.
“We’re going to purchase three books for every student in our school,” McClung said. “Each employee of our school will have a book as well, and we’re going to read together.”
The kids will read at home with their parents, she said, and the staff will read the same chapter as the students.
“Then we’ll have activities to do with those stories,” McClung said. “This program was perfect. They provided all the activities. Everything was already planned for you.”
She said the elementary will start with a shorter book, and the other two books will be larger chapter books.
“We will let the community know as well what books we’re reading in case they want to read them with us,” she said.
McClung said they are planning on creating a website so people in the community can write about what they’ve done or upload pictures.
“We have not picked our books yet,” she said. “We’ll probably start that a month or about six weeks into school starting.”
McClung said Eureka Springs Elementary School is grateful to the community foundation.
“We’re so thankful to get the grant,” she said, “because a lot of our students don’t have books at home. That’s what we were hoping to do was get books in the kids’ hands at home.”
Green Forest is working on new after-school reading and science efforts to encourage parent engagement as well as focusing on chronic absence prevention, according to the release.
Green Forest Elementary School will be creating an after-school enrichment program with its grant money, said counselor Becky Tharp. As a part of the program, she said kids will work on their reading while learning about science.
“The grant works to improve literacy and to improve literacy in science areas,” said Carrie Reece, the Green Forest Elementary library media specialist.
Reece said the program will span 20 weeks. Each grade will focus on a different science concept. With a parent’s permission, every elementary school student will be able to participate in the after-school activities. The students will split up into groups of 20 to 25 kids, and each group will be in the program for two days, Monday and Tuesday from about 3:15 p.m. to 5 p.m.
At the program, the kids will be able to conduct experiments, like making catapults and model volcanoes, Reece said. They will also get snacks at the program and a kit and book to take home and continue learning.
“We’re hoping that’s going to build literacy with the family as well,” said Cari Tackett, the Green Forest Elementary literacy instructional facilitator.
Robertson said anyone interested in contributing to the program can make tax-deductible donations to the Carroll County Giving Tree Fund from now until May 1, 2019. She said these donations will be added to the foundation’s 2019 Grade-Level Grant total to support nonprofits and schools working to increase children’s reading and literacy in Carroll County.
To donate online, go to ARCF.org/give and select or type in “Carroll County Giving Tree Fund” in the drop-down menu.
“All the money collected through the Carroll County Community Fund will be granted out next year,” Robertson said. “We’re not saving that. It will be functioning in the community next year just like it did this year.”
She continued, “That’s the great thing about working for this foundation. I get to work with these wonderful people who donate money and the wonderful nonprofits who donate their time and effort.”