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Enjoy Magazine

Shasta Early Literacy Program

08/25/2016 11:00AM ● By Laura Christman

Story Time

September 2016
By Laura Christman
Photo: Wil Blackwell

Reading matters. Spread the word.

That’s what Shasta Early Literacy Partnership (SELP) is doing. With only about half of Shasta County’s children showing up for kindergarten with the pre-reading skills needed for school success, the partnership works to get a simple message to parents:

Read. Talk. Sing.

“Make sure kids are hearing language,” says Amy Cavalleri, partnership coordinator. “The interaction helps the magic happen in children’s brain development.”

“We’re trying to instill the idea that talking to your children and reading to your children is going to be brain food for your children,” says Kathy Barry, recently retired Shasta County Office of Education Early Childhood Services executive director who is on the partnership’s steering committee.

No one is suggesting parents become reading specialists or drill 2-year-olds with flash cards. It’s about taking 20 minutes (and it doesn’t have to be all at once) each day to connect with your child through stories.

“It’s making sure kids are hearing language,” Cavalleri says. “You can look at a picture book and make up a story. Or talk about what you are doing during the day – as you are cooking dinner. This is something everyone can do.”

It shouldn’t be a chore; it should be fun, Cavalleri stresses. “It definitely improves that parent-child bond.”

More than 20,000 children’s books are distributed each year through SELP and its partner organizations, Cavalleri says. New this fall is a campaign with television and radio public service announcements about the importance of reading to children every day.

The partnership, funded through grants and donations, formed in 2009 out of concern about low literacy scores of Shasta County third graders. Reading ability in third grade is key to school success. Children learn to read through third grade, and then read to learn in the grades that follow. 

Initially, Rotary Club of Redding started a dialog about ways to help and was soon joined by other area Rotary clubs. Early language exposure became the focus. Babies and young children who miss out on being read to at home miss a critical piece, Cavalleri says. “It’s hard to go back and try to recreate that. Those first three years are really important.”

The partnership sponsors early literacy projects and supports the programs of others. It also reviews data, shares information and works to avoid duplication among partners.

“There are a lot of moving parts. SELP, we are kind of the hub,” Cavalleri explains.

“It’s really pretty unique to Shasta County – just the idea of having a community effort around early literacy,” Barry says.

The partnership’s programs include:

  • Community leaders reading to preschoolers. The Take 10 & Do It Again program is being rebranded to be part of the national Read for the Record event and will be held Oct. 27.
  • Family library mini-grants. Eligible families receive 10 free books.
  • Little Free Library. A nationwide program of small book exchanges.

Programs of others supported by the partnership are:

  • Cuddle a Reader, Create a Reader. Mercy Guild of Dignity Health Mercy Medical Center in Redding gives every newborn at the hospital a book and library-card application.
  • Reach Out & Read. Shasta Community Health Center medical providers offer books to children and tips to parents.
  • Story times. Shasta County libraries, Shasta Community Health Center, Barnes & Noble and Simpson University hold regular story and activity sessions.
  • Raising a Reader. Shasta Head Start, Shasta Family YMCA and Shasta County Office of Education help families with reading ideas and materials.
“I love it that SELP has brought in all these partners with a single goal of trying to increase the ability of our kids to read by third grade,” Barry says.

“Everyone in the partnership is really passionate,” Cavalleri says.

Cathy Reisfelt, chair of Cuddle a Reader, says the Mercy Guild program providing books to babies began a little over a year ago and has been well received. 

“The moms just think it is great. We get such a warm response,” she says. Many volunteers are retired teachers eager to share the importance of reading with families.

Business owner Les Monthei is enthusiastic about the Little Free Library piece of the early literacy push. He put up one of the small libraries at Mountain View Laundromat in Redding. 

“It is a joy watching the kids reading books with their parents,” he says. “I think any time you get a book in the hands of a child, you have the possibility of turning that child’s life around.”

Partnership members
First 5 Shasta
Shasta Family YMCA
Shasta Head Start
Shasta Community Health Center
Shasta Public Libraries
Shasta Library Foundation
Shasta County Office of Education
Shasta County Health & Human Services
Simpson University