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Jeffco Library's Start with a Story program helps expand literacy initiative

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By Ramsey Scott

A story about a dancing monster can loom large in a child’s education.  

That’s why Jamie Wolf sat before a group of preschoolers at Stony Creek Preschool last week, reading silly monster tales. She is one of a dozen volunteers who work with the Jefferson County Public Library’s new early literacy program, Start With a Story.

“Children really love to use their imagination. I really love to see them get engrossed in the story,” Wolf said. 

Wolf asked the 3- and 4-year-olds open-ended questions and conversed with them as she read, keeping them engaged in the tale of a monster with happy feet. At the end of the session, the kids lined up to hug Wolf before she left the classroom.

“I love it. It’s so much fun. It’s like going to a shelter with a lot of puppies,” Wolf said.

Start With a Story will bring story times like the one Wolf led to 60 preschool classrooms across the county this month. Before this school year, the library’s only story-time outreach was through the traveling children’s library.

“They’re helping us to expand the traveling children’s library,” said Donna Walker, the library’s director of public services. 

Last year, the traveling library held more than 2,240 story times across the county, Walker said. The volunteer program will help reach another 850 kids each month.

“Our goal is to continue to expand the program so it can expand the outreach,” Walker said. 

The traveling library targets schools with significant numbers of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The goal of the program is to help increase literacy rates among kids as they move forward into their K-12 educations.

Volunteers are trained through the Every Child Ready to Read program, which focuses on specific techniques that help increase the benefits kids gain by being read to, Walker said.

“See, read, write, talk and play,” Walker said, referring to the five techniques an adult should focus on when reading to a child. 

Walker had suggestions for ways to help make kids lifetime readers: Ask children what they’re seeing in the pictures of a book; encourage them to read along; let them scribble on a piece of paper while being read to; talk to a child about what she sees while grocery shopping; and sing a song with a child.

“We’re not just reading stories to children; there’s a method behind getting children ready to read,” Walker said. “Sing a song with your child, read a story with your child … play is a huge part of a child’s learning.”

“It’s an added literary piece for us,” said Carol Pehrson, the director of Stony Creek Preschool. “It gives them more ability to read books and handle books.

“A lot of kids haven’t been to the library.”

Pehrson said connecting kids and their parents to the library not only helps the children but also informs the parents about available resources.

“We’re able to link these parents to our community,” she said.

The traveling library focused on literacy outreach at schools where students are considered at-risk for being behind in reading, and Walker said the volunteer program was added to reach other students. 

And this year saw even more students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

“The need expanded at the same time as our program expanded,” Walker said. “What we’re trying to do is have every child in Jefferson County to start school ready to read.”

Walker said the program is tracking progress this year and hopes to recruit more volunteers next year.

 

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.