When the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library (TLCPL) set out to reassess its programs and staffing after state budget cuts in 2009, three significant facts led to the adoption of an early literacy program called Ready to Read:
When you look at a group of third-graders’ reading scores and compare them to the same group’s kindergarten readiness scores from three years earlier, the breakdowns are virtually identical,” explained TLCPL’s Youth Services Coordinator, Nancy Eames. “That carries all the way through to graduation rates — and it has serious implications for our community.”
“Budget cuts at the state level in 2009 forced us to reconsider how we were utilizing our community outreach resources,” said TLCPL’s Development Coordinator Kathryn Fell. “Early literacy had been an ongoing focus for the library, but we wanted to do more. The Toledo Community Foundation helped us start that process through a capacity grant, which funded a new strategic plan for the Library Legacy Foundation. The Ready to Read program was an outcome of that planning.”
“The Ready to Read program is distinctive because the focus is on developing skills in parents and child-care providers — not on the children themselves,” said Nancy, who suggested the program to the strategic planning team. “Studies show that children need six basic skills to be ready to learn to read, which are developed largely through five types of interaction with a child’s primary caregivers (see sidebar at right). Ready to Read provides parents with resources to support these interactions, which in turn build foundational skills for reading.”
Two full-time librarians, Lauren Boeke and Cristin Brown, bring the TLCPL Ready to Read program to the community via a van filled with resources for parents and in-home child-care providers, including children’s books, how-to manuals — even GED prep courses.
A Community Funds grant from Toledo Community Foundation ensures that low-income parents who enroll in the program receive a Ready to Read kit, which includes books and other educational materials for children. The kit is key to the program because it is designed by library staff to equip parents to work with their children, engaging both in the five behaviors on which early literacy is built. “Parents are thrilled with the kit — and librarians can mentor parents in behaviors that lead to early literacy by demonstrating the kit’s components,” Nancy commented.
Critical to the success of Ready to Read are the librarians themselves. “The relationships our librarians build with parents and caregivers is one of the most important aspects of the program,” said Nancy. “And our librarians’ outreach to in-home child-care providers is bringing essential skills to a group largely without access to this kind of training and development.”
Early literacy skills that every child needs: 1. Phonemic awareness, 2. Vocabulary, 3. Print awareness: the recognition of print as a means of conveying information, 4. Print motivation: the love of books and understanding of the conventions of books (left to right, top to bottom, front to back, etc.), 5. Narrative skills, 6. Letter knowledgeLearn more!
To develop and sustain the Ready to Read program, TLCPL’s Library Legacy Foundation developed a two-prong capital campaign, called “Planting a Seed to Read”. The campaign plans to allot $1 million to programming, and another $1 million to fund a Ready to Read endowment.
One of the major Seed to Read donors was ProMedica, which committed $150,000 to the campaign through its Community Revitalization Fund with Toledo Community Foundation. ProMedica’s director of community relations, advocacy and grants, Stephanie Cihon, cited the Foundation’s vetting of the program and the community outreach component of Ready to Read as factors in ProMedica’s support. “We need a strong, literate workforce for a strong community,” said Stephanie. “Knowing the library was taking this program directly into neighborhoods where it was most needed was very important to us.”
With the initial goal of reaching 500 families achieved before even a full year had been completed, the next goal is to reach 1000 families annually. However, the Ready to Read team will not achieve its ultimate goal until EVERY child in Toledo is ready to read by kindergarten.
“We want to assure this program is here for the long run,” said Kathryn. “By creating an endowment for Ready to Read, we provide our donors a measure of assurance that the program will be sustained. We’ve enjoyed strong support from a broad range of community partners. Having the Toledo Community Foundation with us at the outset gave credibility to our vision, and encourages others to come forth with support.”