'Hooked on books': Summer reading programs combat illiteracy locally

June 12, 2018 10:29:21 AM

India Yarborough - [email protected]


In a state where illiteracy rates top the national average, local libraries have implemented summer programs to get Mississippi's youngest reading.


"Starting to read at an early age has lifelong positive results," said Christina Jurusik, children's librarian for the Starkville Public Library. "(Children) recognize words easier a little earlier, and they're more confident when it comes to getting into school and starting to read on their own."


The Columbus, Starkville, West Point and Noxubee public libraries each have summer reading programs, targeting children of all ages.



This year, nine preschool-aged children and their parents enrolled in the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library's 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program. 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten is a nationally operated program by the 1,000 Books Foundation -- a Nevada-based nonprofit that encourages parents to read to their young children and promotes parent-child bonding through literature.


According to C.T. Salazar, the library's children's services coordinator, 68 parents have enrolled their children in the 1,000 books program since Columbus began participating in 2013.


The 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten website states if parents "read just one book a night (with their child, they) will have read about 365 books in a year. That is 730 books in two years and 1,095 books in three years."


"When a parent reads, a child gets to experience the words on the page, the sounds of the words, how their parent's mouth moves to make those sounds and the pictures to reinforce what the language means," Salazar said. "There is no time too early to be reading to your children. The mental stimulation is crucial to a toddler's healthy development."


Salazar encourages those enrolled in the program to keep track of the books they read. Books may be repeated, and when a parent and child reaches 1,000, the library rewards them with a book to call their own.


According to the National Center for Education Statistics' 2003 study -- the most recent available -- 16 percent of Mississippians age 16 or older are illiterate. That's two points above the national average of 14 percent. The study, which also explores illiteracy on the county level, notes Oktibbeha County has an illiteracy rate of 14 percent, Lowndes of 16 percent, Clay of 21 percent and Noxubee of 28 percent.


Loiraine Walker, the Noxubee County children's librarian, is trying to lower that percentage by "spreading the word about books wherever (she) can."


Each summer, Walker said, the Noxubee County Public Library hosts a reading contest. Last year, the top three book readers received a Kindle Fire. One of those top readers was an 8-year-old who read more than 120 chapter books.


"I want to get kids hooked on books as early as possible," Walker said. "For children to use their own imagination and discover new worlds -- especially living in a small town of 2,000 people, and at their age -- the only way they're going to experience the world is through books.


"I have one young man who every week explores a different area of the world," she added. "It's Egypt. It's Rome. Because he likes dinosaurs and archaeology, that morphed into looking at where these things are found, where they were discovered. He's traveling the world in our non-fiction section."



Starkville and West Point


At the Starkville Public Library, Jurusik said, more than 300 children -- divided among three separate age categories -- have registered for the library's annual summer reading program.


"The kindergarten-and-under age range gets an early literacy activity sheet, so for every five activities they complete, they can turn it in for a prize," Jurusik said. "For the first to third graders, they're asked to read 12 hours over the summer ... and then the fourth to sixth graders are asked to read 24 hours over the summer."


For every three hours of reading completed, she added, first through sixth graders may also turn in their time sheets for a prize. The student at each level who turns in the most sheets by the end of the summer will be rewarded with a $25 Walmart gift card.


Jurusik said students should also keep track of the number of books they read, as every 10 books earns an ardent reader the chance to win in a foosball table drawing.


Though budgetary constraints inhibit West Point's Bryan Public Library from incentivizing reading through prizes, said children's librarian Dawn Richardson, she hopes kids will learn from weekly speakers and activities that the library "is a fun place to be."


She said over 2,000 students typically walk through the library's doors during summer months, and over 200 children showed up last Tuesday for a visit from "Inky the Clown."


"While they're in here, they can learn about all of the things that a library has to offer," Richardson said. "They can talk to us, and we'll tell them that when they turn 5 years old, they can get their own library card. We think fun programs like this will encourage the children to come back to the library throughout their life."