Books today, graduation tomorrow
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.