A pair of 100-plus-year-old organizations teamed up Wednesday morning to help Cocke County students, providing more opportunities for reading.
Save the Children, Inc., who services the Cocke County School system and other homes in the county, and Scholastic, Inc., came to Edgemont Elementary School in Newport for a literacy distribution event which will help students improve their reading skills.
Chapple Osborne Arnold, deputy state director of Save the Children from Cookeville, said her organization received a shipment of 6,000 books this past week, with another 6,000 shipment received previously. She was the program specialist for East Tennessee before taking her current position.
“(Save the Children) has partnered with Scholastic for the last 25 years,” Arnold said. “Today we’re partnering with them for their summer reading program. Scholastic has donated thousands of books, not just to Cocke County kids, but to kids all across the nation. Scholastic’s donation is not a one-time thing. This happens every year.”
Save the Children serves 10 economically distressed counties and 29 other schools in Tennessee, including Cocke and Greene in the Lakeway Area. Other counties served include Morgan, Grundy, Perry, Lauderdale, Crockett, Haywood, Tipton and Hardeman counties. There are eight staff members with Save the Children who serve in Tennessee, including early childhood specialists and program specialists. Save the Children is headquartered in Washington, D.C. with an office in Connecticut and a remote office in Kentucky.
Save the Children has home visiting programs, school-age, community engagement programs and others in Cocke County, according to Arnold.
“We offer in-school programming, after school programming and summer programming,” Arnold said. “Most of the kids here at (Edgemont) and come to our programs are struggling readers. That’s the whole purpose of the summer program, to get them caught up before the (coming) school year. Scholastic wants to get books in the hands of kids who have little to no access to books,” she said. “Each school in Cocke County is doing a book giveaway, but not like this event. Scholastic has some great quality books. ”
Arnold said that each child is given a “Star Test,” by Renaissance Learning to determine their reading level. Throughout the year, the kids read “tons and tons” of books. Each child has a goal to read 65 books a year. The child takes quizzes on the material.
“They kind of know their reading level,” Arnold said. “All Scholastic books are on a reading level which makes it really nice for those kids who want to take those quizzes and get points and all that good stuff.”
The children were given bags to put their books in after choosing as many books as they wanted, whether it be for themselves and/or for other family members. They were able to take the books back to their classroom, then home to read. Books were separated by grade levels, from kindergarten to eighth grade. Parents may go to arbookfinder.com to find out the grade level of a book.
“The whole purpose of this is to build up home libraries,” Arnold said. “We know that providing access to books is the key to accelerating student learning. That’s really important to Save the Children and to Scholastic.”
Crystal Chambers, Save the Children’s community engagement coordinator, is involved in the Cocke County area with the program, which includes working with local public libraries, parks, housing authorities to distribute books.
“This past weekend, we had a storybook walk downtown,” Chambers said. “We gave out more than 1,000 books downtown and I also deliver books to homes. If folks will reach out, I’ll deliver a book bag. (The bags) go out all over the county to anyone who wants them.”
Three Edgemont families, with a total of six children, were interviewed regarding the reading opportunities. One of the families has had a daughter go through the program before who is now volunteering for Save the Children.
Rhonda Halcomb has three children, Taylor, 19, Camryn 17 and Kobe, 6.
“This program is wonderful,” Halcomb said. “I have two kids who have been through the program and now they’ve come back to volunteer, so that’s wonderful. To have our little one come through it and the older kids to help out is wonderful. For Kobe to come to this program and keep his skills up, I think it’s wonderful. He can touch, look at the books, he has several at home. He has a pretty good library, but to add to it and get some of these books, it’s tremendous. I think that reading will follow him all the way beyond school.”
Heather Davis has two children, Alina, age 9 and Ivy, age 5, who have participated in the after-school reading program throughout the school year.
“I’m very excited to add to our collection and to see what our nine-year-old is interested in,” Davis said. “It gives me an expansion to see what she is interested in. She is growing and getting into that different stage. Alina struggles with her confidence and Save the Children helps with that self-confidence. As a parent, you want to see your children expand and succeed as much as possible.”
Brittany James has three children, ages 11, 6 and 1. She is trying to get her six-year-old daughter, Tayler, on a second-grade reading level, a year ahead of her upcoming grade level.
“She hasn’t really been focusing on reading this year, but we’re working on it,” Brittany said of Tayler. “This will help tremendously. She loves the books. The paperbacks work better for us and her favorite parts is me changing the voices (when I read to her), a talent learned from my librarian. (Among) all three kids, they have at least 40 books apiece and we do a lot of reading. It will also help with her vocabulary and imagination.”
Brittany said that Save the Children is amazing.
“I don’t know what I’d do without them,” she said.
Students may go to scholastic.com to unlock free e-books, do virtual author visits and unlock another 100,000 books for Save the Children kids. Students may also go to savethechildren.org/us to find out about programs in this country and the communities they work in.
The Ikea Company is also making donations of furniture to some of the families in the near future to establish reading corners in children’s homes. Chairs, shelves, a rug and more will help to give children their own area where which to read in their homes.
“They can put the books they are getting on the shelves,” Arnold said.