Back in November, this blog addressed the importance of increasing the volume of books in a home and noted the relationship between the time that parents and other adults spend reading to children and academic success. I encouraged Black Friday shoppers to purchase books for gift-giving.
One of the most active community service organizations in Rockland County, the Tappan Zee High School Leo’s did more than simply write about this need. They took action. In the early spring 65 Leo’s sought donations of children’s books from community members who responded with over 3,500 books. These industrious high school students worked to assess the quality and appropriate levels of the books and organized a distribution process at William O. Schaefer School. Twelve members of the high school’s English Honor Society joined the Leo’s in this work.
Before distributing the books, high school students visited WOS to read to our kindergartners and first graders. The students shared what and why they liked to read. Most importantly, they shared their enthusiasm. A few days later they assisted our youngest readers who had the opportunity to select books they could bring home to add to their home libraries. The Leo’s spent 230 hours organizing, planning, and delivering literacy to our youngest students! (This was the Leo’s thirtieth community service event this year.)
It is well-documented that academic and career success is strongly correlated with one’s literacy and ability to use language – spoken and written. (There is also a lifelong joy that one gets from reading but that is rarely measured.) Research confirms that when very young children are shown at an early age some simple reading tasks, such as identifying letters, reading from left to right, pointing out letters or words, and identifying capital letters, their reading skills rapidly improve. We also know that the more vocabulary children hear – which comes through reading aloud – the greater the impact on their learning success. We use language to communicate, but we also use language to think – to receive, analyze, organize, and create. When one’s vocabulary is greater, the capacity to think is stronger.
Our elementary teachers value the importance of language-rich learning environments while most of our parents foster literacy in their homes. Now, thanks to our Leo’s , our youngest learners have heard from our high school students who have not only modeled a love of reading but one of generosity.
All of this work was done without spending a dime. Thanks to the contributions of gently used children’s books by members of the community and an extraordinary amount of time devoted by our students and teacher volunteers, such as Ms. Castelli at TZHS, both those who received and gave lessons in literacy and service profited. These are immeasurable lessons that will not be followed by an exam but will have an impact far more valuable than any test score.
Dr. Ken Mitchell is the South Orangetown School District Superintendent. To view all of Dr. Mitchell's blog entries, please go to http://sites.socsdblogs.org/superintendent