When some of the kindergartners leave Hawthorne Elementary School, the backpacks they are carrying make them look as if they are serious scholars. Filled with seven library books, the backpacks are a key element in the "Read to Me" program of librarian Jennifer Pascoe.
The program allows each participating child to pick up a backpack with seven age-appropriate books each Friday. The children and their families are encouraged to read a book each night, then return the backpack for a new selection the next week.
"We started the program after being challenged to think outside the box," Pascoe said. "I believe reading is very important, and I thought about the success of a similar program in another school. Also, Superintendent Kevin Freeman had talked about how crucial reading skills are, and Principal Holly Pashia has made reading our Hawthorne Initiative this year."
There are 36 of the 105 kindergartners currently participating, and Pascoe looks for the program to grow as parents become more aware of the advantages. "The books are not just for the children in our building, but for their younger brothers and sisters also," Pascoe said. "It's important to read and re-read books to get younger children involved."
Setting up the program was easy once Pascoe let others know what she needed. "We have some extra backpacks from the Buddy Backpack program, so all we had to do was secure some extra books," she said.
Pascoe's request for books was met by donations from teachers and parents whose children had outgrown the picture and board books needed. "We were able to order some books from Scholastic, and would be delighted to accept donations of appropriate books in good condition," she said.
All of the books sent home are geared toward parent and child reading. "We want to impress upon families the importance of reading every day," Pascoe said. "Reading for only 10 minutes can make a huge difference in a child's success when they come to school."
The "Read to Me" program has the strong support of the principal. "Reading is our focus at Hawthorne School," Pashia said. "Our goal is to have 90 percent of our students reading on grade level by third grade. When children can't read, school is difficult and therefore life is difficult. This program will help our children and their younger siblings."
Both Pashia and Pascoe hope the program will be far-reaching. "We hope we see children entering our kindergarten in a few years with stronger reading backgrounds," Pascoe said. "Children who have been exposed to reading on a daily basis, whether they can read themselves or not, will be more prepared for academic success."
(Donations of age-appropriate books can be left at the Hawthorne Elementary School library.)