The Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation visited with the Rotary Club of Morristown to discuss its efforts.
Dean Hoskins, the foundation’s vice president, explained what the foundation does and how the club has helped it over the years.
“In 2004, then governor Phill Bredesen met with Dolly Parton about wanting to make her Imagination Library program statewide,” she said. “The first state to ever do something like that.”
“Knowing we did not have materials or support for families with kids in the birth to five years old birth range, so they worked together to build what we now know as Tennessee’s Imagination Library.”
“They spent 18 months going across the state and meeting with local nonprofits, local city and county officials and have an Imagination Library in all 95 counties.”
Dean explained the foundation’s mission and its goal is to give children access to reading materials.
“Our mission is to strengthen early literacy in Tennessee,” she said “Our vision for Tennessee is that every child and family has access to resources, guidance and support that is needed for them to be lifelong learners.”
“The reason that is so important is because when kids are young they’re like sponges,” she said. “They soak up any knowledge that you feed to them and so it’s critical that we give them resources that will expose them to reading.”
“We hope that each child gets a good education, graduates and becomes a member of the community who contributes back to its community.”
She explained how the pandemic negatively affected students’ learning.
“There is an urgency,” she said “COVID and school interruption had a tremendous negative effect on our kids.”
“There’s first graders and second graders who only know sitting in front of a computer.”
“Although our state numbers look terrible, 38% of our third graders read at a proficient level, the national average is just over 50% so this is a national issue.”
Dean doubled down by explaining how reading literacy is an issue facing adults as well.
“However, only 54% of adults can read above a sixth grade level,” she said “So this is a multigenerational issue.”
“We need to be in the schools and the community doing whatever we can to fix both ends of the spectrum.”
Dean then explained how the foundation is able to pay for the program.
“The funding mechanism would equate to half of the cost of books and mailing be paid for through an appropriation made by the general assembly that’s included in the governor’s budget.”
“Our foundation was established to take care of those funds and work with those 95 counties to fundraise within those counties to make this a community effort.”
Although the program is set up to be free for families, it’s because of the community that it’s able to do that.
“The only requirements to enroll in the program is that a child be 0-5 and live in the state of Tennessee,” she said. “It is free and at no cost to the family, but nothing is free.”
“It’s because you Rotarians and so many other members of the community have donated millions of dollars over the past 19 years.”
She further explained how the rotary club’s support has helped those in Hamblen County.
“Hamblen County has over 66% of its 0-5 population currently enrolled and getting books,” she said. “That’s about 2,600 children every month.”
“Books and mailing cost about $2.20. So $1.10 here is being raised here at Rotary. Your dedication as a club has been critical to this program being sustained in Hamblen County.”
“To date through May you have delivered 430,323 books since the inception of this program, and Rotary itself has contributed well over $60,000 over the years.”
Following the program, The Rotary Club of Morristown donated $5,000 to the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation and the Imagination Library.
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