Books to­day, grad­u­a­tion to­mor­row

The Covington News - - Local news -

I was un­sure about pass­ing out used chil­dren’s books at the Christ­mas pa­rade last Satur­day.

What if chil­dren cast them onto the side­walk, won­der­ing why we hadn’t given them the ex­pected candy?

In­stead, each book met with ex­cited eyes and ea­ger lit­tle hands, as many chil­dren opened their books right up in­stead of even watch­ing the next few floats.

Pa s s i n g out books in the Christ­mas pa­rade is not new to Cov­ing­ton, but it is new to 4-H.

Last sum­mer, ris­ing eight grade 4-H’er Paula Hop­kins of Cle­ments Mid­dle School met Mol­lie Melvin, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Learn­ing Cen­ter, at a pro­gram we par­tic­i­pated in at the Cov­ing­ton Hous­ing Au­thor­ity.

One of Melvin’s projects in­cluded col­lect­ing new and used chil­dren’s books to be dis­trib­uted to chil­dren un­der the age of 5.

From Paula’s sug­ges­tion, we organized a book col­lec­tion for Novem­ber.

The books flowed in the doors un­til 4-H’ers had col­lected more than 2,000 chil­dren’s books for Leap into Books.

Melvin then in­vited the 4H County Coun­cil to com­bine pa­rade ef­forts so that 4-H’ers could pass out nearly 800 pa­per­back books dur­ing the pa­rade.

Mid­dle and high school 4H’ers were of­fered the op­por­tu­nity to walk along­side our Grinch­mo­bile to “re­turn” all the books the Grinch had col­lected to chil­dren un­der 5 along the pa­rade route.

This pa­rade en­try was a huge suc­cess in so many ways, from reach­ing nearly 800 New­ton County chil­dren with the gift of a book to al­low­ing 4-H’ers to per­son­ally see the light in each child’s eyes as they re­ceived this gift.

The Best All Around Float award was like winning the Whoville Cheer­meis­ter Award af­ter al­ready learn­ing the true mean­ing of Christ­mas.

Every­one in­clud­ing our “Grinch,” also known as sev­enth grader Michelle Lewis of Cousins Mid­dle School, is ea­gerly looking for­ward to next year’s col­lec­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion, even though we have not yet fin­ished clean­ing and la­bel­ing all of the books from this year’s col­lec­tion.

This huge pile of books is con­ta­gious — you would think we had a room full of chocolate from the way both youth and adult faces light up upon see­ing them.

No one can re­sist reach­ing into the pile to ex­tract a fa­vorite child­hood story (I was most ex­cited to see Sweet Pick­les books), or to be­gin recit­ing from mem­ory a story such as “I’ll Love You For­ever.”

I hope this love of lit­er­a­ture is just as ad­dic­tive in the homes each book reaches.

It has long frus­trated me to see re­sources poured into treat­ing the re­sults of com­mu­nity prob­lems in­stead of spending more time and money fix­ing the prob­lem.

The Learn­ing Cen­ter con­ducts pro­grams ben­e­fit­ting lit­er­acy in our en­tire com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing adults, but its fo­cus is on pre­par­ing chil­dren to read be­fore they en­ter school.

Ac­cord­ing to Melvin, re­search shows that what a child knows about read­ing when he en­ters kinder­garten can ac­cu­rately pre­dict the child’s read­ing abil­ity through high school.

In New­ton County, one in three stu­dents leave high school without a diploma, ac­cord­ing to the An­nie E. Casey Kid­sCount re­port.

One quar­ter of our adult pop­u­la­tion in this county does not hold a high school diploma.

Ad­di­tion­ally, re­search proves that chil­dren of dropouts are twice as likely to drop out of school.

While my day-to-day work in­volves en­hanc­ing the ed­u­ca­tion chil­dren ages 9 to 19 re­ceive, in­spir­ing a de­sire to learn through­out life through hands-on ac­tiv­i­ties, I know that the process must be­gin much ear­lier in each child’s life.

Each 4-H’er who worked to sort, clean and la­bel our books told sto­ries of par­ents, sib­lings, and oth­ers read­ing to them.

Un­for­tu­nately, with lay offs and other eco­nomic hard­ships touch­ing our com­mu­nity each day, money for things be­yond util­ity bills and gro­ceries is likely be­com­ing harder to find.

In times like this, the work of The Learn­ing Cen­ter, 4-H, and other com­mu­nity pro­grams be­comes even more im­por­tant in the lives of our youth.

I know that in­still­ing skills and val­ues such as lit­er­acy and com­mu­nity ser­vice can­not wait for bet­ter eco­nomic times if we are to pre­pare our chil­dren and youth to be the leaders of New­ton County to­mor­row, and I hope you will agree.

Gifts may be made to The Learn­ing Cen­ter by call­ing Mol­lie Melvin at (770) 784-2778, or to 4-H through my con­tact in­for­ma­tion be­low.

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