Group collecting 40,000 books for low-income Wake County children

02/28/2014 6:17 PM

02/28/2014 6:18 PM

Dancing principals, a rooster named “Ruben” and Dr. Seuss will join forces in March to promote a month-long campaign to collect 40,000 new or gently used books for children up to age 12.

WAKE Up and Read is arranging for the books to be donated to low-income Wake County children. The goal is to encourage the recipients to read and to narrow an achievement gap that’s putting many students at a disadvantage.

“The books that are collected will make a big difference,” said Carolyn Merrifield of WAKE Up And Read, a group that promotes childhood literacy in Wake County. “A lot of kids don’t have books to read at home.”

The drive kicks off Sunday, the birthday of Dr. Seuss, at noon in the Barnes & Noble Booksellers at Brier Creek Commons in Raleigh. Firefighters and principals will read “Green Eggs and Ham” and other Dr. Seuss stories as Ruben, a life-size rooster mascot, greets families bringing in donated books.

Near the end of the drive, the principals of Conn and Powell elementary schools will hold a dance-off at 7 p.m. March 27, at Ligon Middle School in Raleigh. Members of the audience are encouraged to bring books.

Amid all the fun, school and community leaders say the statistics reveal the need to encourage literacy at a young age.

School administrators told board members in February that gaps in reading knowledge are apparent in kindergarten.

When kindergarten students start in Wake, they’re assessed on whether they know 19 print concepts, such as the nature of a capital letter, a lower-case letter, a period and a quotation mark. Most white and Asian students knew the majority of the 19 concepts, but most black and Hispanic children did not.

Administrators said the gaps are “stubborn,” carrying over into the later grades.

School board members said the data shows the value of expanding literacy efforts in pre-kindergarten and K-12, but especially through the early elementary school grades.

“Why are we still arguing the need to have pre-K?” school board vice chairman Tom Benton said in an interview. “We should be offering it to all children.”

State legislators also have made early childhood literacy a focus with the Read To Achieve program that says children should be reading on grade level by the end of third grade. Some education leaders object, though, to the law’s focus on standardized testing.

School readiness is one of the main pillars of WAKE Up and Read, which was formed in 2012 by the school system in partnership with several community groups.

“The school system needs to reach out to the community,” school board chairwoman Christine Kushner said. “We can’t work in isolation on this.”

Merrifield said they’ll give some of the books to child-care centers to be distributed to parents of children who haven’t entered kindergarten. She said the group wants parents to have the books at home so they can get into the habit of reading to their children daily.

But the book drive also will help with another pillar of WAKE Up and Read – reducing summer reading loss. Studies have shown that low-income students fall behind academically over the summer compared to more affluent classmates who are reading during the break.

Merrifield said they’ve identified several high-poverty elementary schools where they hope to give every child 10 books so they’ll have a summer reading library.

The drive got off to an unofficial start at the Feb. 18 school board meeting when school leaders brought in books. Kushner, whose youngest child is in high school, donated her kids’ picture books.

“Reading to my children is one of my fondest memories,” Kushner said.

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