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Rotarians find literacy program a roaring success


Kristin Mamrack



The Starkville Rotarians are pinning their hopes for pre-kindergarten literacy on Theo, Cleo, Lionel and Leona. 


Rotary District 6820, which includes the Golden Triangle area, adopted Between the Lions -- a preschool literacy program based on an Emmy Award-winning Public Broadcasting System Kids Raising Readers television series -- as its lead project. 


"The best program for literacy we found was to teach four-year-olds to read using the program Between the Lions," explained Jack Forbus, the former Rotary District 6820 governor who chose the program to be the lead project for the 44 Rotary Clubs in the district and now serves as the district''s literacy director. 


Each sponsoring Rotary Club gives $1,500 for Between the Lions Preschool Learning Initiative material to child care centers participating in the program, said Forbus. 


"Rotary Club is heavily involved in this and we''re trying to solve the problem of illiteracy and the tremendous dropout rate that we have in this state," he added. "We tried several different programs. We concentrated on Between the Lions; we wanted a club that could be involved and we found a program that does it." 


In 2008, 14 child care centers in Rotary District 6820, which is one of three Rotary districts in the state, taught from Between the Lions Preschool Literacy Initiative material and the number of centers is expected to double this year. 


"Everybody was a little skeptical the first year," Forbus recalled of the Between the Lions program, which the Rotarians adopted as a project about 18 months ago. "Then, when they see the result, everybody says, ''I want some of that.'' Last year, when we measured, (we saw) a 25 percent improvement, on average, in reading for four-year-olds. That''s dramatic; that''s really dramatic!" 


Currently, the Golden Triangle only has two participating child care centers -- Emerson Family School and First Presbyterian Church Child Care Inc. -- which are located in Starkville. 


"It worked well," First Presbyterian Church Child Care Director Jennifer Kouns said of the Between the Lions program. "Of course, the Rotary Club is the one that got us involved. PBS in Jackson donated classroom materials for the teachers to use and they had weekly unit ideas for them to do and the children really seemed to like them." 


The Columbus-Lowndes Public Library plans to hold six to eight week sessions around the program in the fall and spring. 


"Between the Lions is a very effective way to prepare children for reading, but must be implemented ''by the book,''" said Columbus-Lowndes Public Library Director Alice Shands, noting the library participated in the program more than a year ago, but library officials did not devote the resources needed for the program to be successful.  


"A Between the Lions story time has a letter, sound and a particular book for each session, with repeating songs and activities that reinforce the learning goals," she noted. "Done right, each story time is repeated two weeks in a row, as an added reinforcement. So, if we do an eight-week session, then we will actually be presenting four story programs, each twice. One of the issues for public libraries is that it is preferred that pre- and post-testing be done of Between the Lions (Preschool Literacy Initiative) participants and, in this community, we don''t always have the same children every week at our programs. Some children come every time we have a story time and some come once in a while. The best results happen when a child comes to every story time in a session. 


"Columbus-Lowndes Public Library is committed to Every Child Ready to Read and to Between the Lions, as vehicles to help us contribute to the reading readiness of children in this community," she continued, referring to a joint project of the Public Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children. "Columbus-Lowndes Public Library doesn''t have the number of staff, nor the in-house expertise to produce programs of this caliber on our own. Between the Lions makes it possible for us to present programming that we know will work for children." 


Between the Lions uses a family of lions -- father Theo, mother Cleo, son Lionel and daughter Leona -- to introduce pre-kindergarten children to the concept of print, language and reading. 


This year, the Parents'' Choice Foundation honored Between the Lions with the Parents'' Choice Gold Award. 


The PBS Kids Raising Readers television series, "Between the Lions," is produced -- by Mississippi Public Broadcasting, WGBH Boston and Sirius Thinking Ltd. of New York -- at the MPB studios in Jackson. 


Rotary is a worldwide organization of business and professional leaders; about 1.2 million Rotarians belong to more than 31,000 clubs, located in 166 countries.




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