"If you give a child a book..." campaign highlights the importance and fun of reading

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Posted at 6:06 PM, Sep 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-22 20:20:29-04

GREAT FALLS — Studies show the ability to read can help lift children out of poverty. That's why KRTV and the Scripps-Howard Foundation are committed to increasing literacy for children in need.

September kicks off our first "If You Give A Child A Book..." campaign. It strives to help bridge those gaps by donating new books to children who need them most.

This year’s recipient is West Elementary School, a Title I school in Great Falls. Title I is the largest federally funded educational program. The program provides supplemental funds to school districts to assist schools with large concentrations of low-income students to help meet their educational goals.

For years researchers have connected children’s future literacy level to the income and educational attainment of their parents. However, a 20-year international study found that it is not the educational attainment of your parents that is the greatest predictor of academic achievement; it is the number of books in your house.

West Elementary has three intervention specialists who work with teachers and parents of students who have been designated at risk of failing. They see first-hand the obstacles and challenges many of their students face in getting access to books.

“Often with lower socioeconomic status, it does bring on a set of challenges in the education system,” said West Elementary principal Lyndsey Stulc. “Often the kids have not been exposed to reading or letters or sounds in a way that some other schools or other communities have been. Whether it’s because families don't have the means get those materials, or something else on a wide range of reasons. Just getting books into the hands of kids really helps us with that exposure.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a division of the U.S. Department of Education, children who are read to at home enjoy a substantial advantage over Children who are not:

  • 26% of children who were read to three or four times in the last week by a family member recognized all letters of the alphabet. This is compared to 14% of children who were read to less frequently.
  • The NCES also reported that children who were read to frequently are also more likely to:
    • count to 20, or higher than those who were not (60% vs. 44%)
    • write their own names (54% vs. 40%)
    • read or pretend to read (77% vs. 57%)
  • According to NCES, only 53% of children ages three to five were read to daily by a
  • family member (1999). Children in families with incomes below the poverty line are less likely to be read to aloud everyday than are children in families with incomes at or above poverty.
  • The more types of reading materials there are in the home, the higher students are in reading proficiency, according to the Educational Testing Service.
  • The Educational Testing Services reported that students who do more reading at home are better readers and have higher math scores; however, students read less for fun as they get older.

“If we were to think of student A, who reads 20 minutes a day, they read on average about 1 million or 800,000 words versus a student who might read one minute a day and is limited to 8,000 words per year,” said West intervention specialist Brittney Lampert. “Just getting that text in the hands and that extra exposure is very important to their brain development and their language development.”

Educators and researchers agree that making sure kids have access to books is more important now than ever. When the spread of the novel coronavirus shut down schools across the country in March, many students struggled to keep up with the new world of remote learning, especially children living in poverty.

This circumstance has been referred to as the “COVID slide." From a comprehensive report from the NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association), preliminary data suggests the COVID-19 pandemic and its affect on schools impacted students in the following ways:

  • “Preliminary COVID slide estimates suggest students will return in fall 2020 with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year.”
  • “The school closures caused by COVID-19 have additional aspects of trauma to students, loss of resources and loss of opportunity to learn that go well beyond a traditional summer break for many families.”
  • “Nevertheless, these preliminary forecasts parallel many education leaders’ fears: missing school for a prolonged period will likely have major impacts on student achievement come fall 2020.”
  • “Once schools are back in session, we must be prepared to support students, many of whom will likely be behind academically.”
  • “Making sure all students and families have access to appropriate, engaging mathematics and reading materials, instruction, and support during coronavirus closures is one important way we can prevent opportunity gaps from growing.”

At West Elementary School, Stulc said the school did their best to make sure kids had access to materials at home, but that a regression was inevitable.

“We were fortunate in the spring to be able to send home lots of books for kids, we had them available for any families that did not have those at home. We sent them out and we knew that we probably wouldn't get some of those materials back, but we were willing to take that loss just to have kids reading at home,” Stulc said. “But when kids don't have access to those materials regularly and they don't have the one on one instruction and the direct instruction from a teacher, unfortunately they do lose skills that they had practiced and mastered at one time. Even though we worked hard to work with students, a slide was bound to happen.”

But through KRTV’s “If You Give a Child a Book…” campaign, the Scripps Howard Foundation and the community, you can help get books in the hands of children in need.

“We have many kids that just aren't able to access that at home and kids really do like to learn and they like to read, especially when the books are interesting to them and topics they like to read about,” Stulc said. “And so, I just think it bring a lot of joy to our kids here.”

All the money raised from the campaign will go straight to West Elementary School in the form of brand-new books. Only monetary donations are being accepted and the Scripps Howard Foundation is matching the first $5,000 dollars raised by the community. KRTV is partnering with Scholastic to turn that money into new books we will distribute to students at Arellanes Elementary School. You can donate now through Friday.

If you would like to help, please click here.