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Guest editorial by Stewart Parsons: Wee Read Gadsden will do much to help children improve academic performance

Wee Read Gadsden is a new preschool reading enhancement program set up by the Gadsden Interchange, in conjunction with the Gadsden County School District, to help children improve their performance at school.

Other partners in the program are the Gadsden County Public Library and the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce.

The mission statement of Wee Read Gadsden is to create a greater public awareness in Gadsden County of the importance of developing preschool reading and communication skills – and to conduct activities that will provide reading materials to children which will train and encourage parents to become more involved in reading activities with their children.

The need for Wee Read Gadsden is that many children in Gadsden County live in families where few books are available – and where reading is a limited part of home life. By the time these children reach the public schools they are several years behind other students in terms of their educational and intellectual development.

This deficit continues to follow them as they advance through the school system. It also has a negative impact on the school system’s performance evaluations.

Reading skills are the foundation of future educational success. Small rural counties, such as Gadsden County, tend to have lower reading scores on standardized state tests. It is well recognized that by third grade a child must be able to read in order to achieve satisfactory educational progress as they advance to higher grades.

On average, approximately 400 children enter first grade each year in Gadsden County. A large percentage of these children are deficient in communication and reading skills — and have had limited or no exposure to books and other reading materials.  If these children received significant reading instruction beginning at ages 2-3, we believe it would have a positive impact on their subsequent performance in school.

How then have we gone about setting up such a program?  A preschool reading program must be a community effort. Support and participation was developed within the faith-based community, as well as with local civic clubs and with similar nonprofit organizations — which represented a potential base for volunteers and financial resources.

The program also sought support from the local business community.   Areas of activity for the program include:

• Partnering with the Gadsden County School District to conduct a four-week summer reading camp, focusing on children who will be entering Kindergarten in the fall of 2018 — and who have generally not been involved in a formal reading or educational program.
• Designing and carrying out of a public information campaign to increase public awareness of the importance of preschool reading – as well as reading with children by family members. This involves the dissemination of information through the media; sponsoring special events to emphasize the importance of preschool reading; and organizing specific outreach projects targeted at high-risk groups.
• Purchasing and distributing reading and educational materials for families that don’t have such materials readily available.
• Partnering with the Gadsden County School District to develop and conduct activities in conjunction with the local Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters program, which is directed at parents or guardians of preschool children so as to assist them in becoming more involved in informal “family teaching” through reading. This involves developing guides for teaching preschool children to read including a list of suggested reading materials.
• Partnering with the Gadsden County Public Library to develop strategies to increase participation in our public libraries by families with preschool children.
• Developing an evaluation component to measure the effectiveness of this project.

Stewart Parsons is chair of the Gadsden Interchange, a Quincy-based community group that was organized in the fall of 2015 and has 35 members from around the county, reflecting racial and gender diversity. For more information about Wee Read Gadsden or the Gadsden Interchange, call Parsons at (850) 663-4134. To volunteer for the program, call the Rev. Charles Flowers at (850) 627-3575.

Guest editorial by Stewart Parsons