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Wisconsin VISTA Leader Creates Community Reading Program

by Casey G

Working as an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader for a state-wide project while still serving in a school district coordinating projects and facilitating a team can be a challenging, but the rewards are plentiful. The Wisconsin DPI VISTA Project seeks “to build capacity for family involvement in low-income schools and communities by implementing a research-based, sustainable process for partnerships.” In the School District of Rhinelander, I am in the middle of a summer program which just might be my most sustainable idea thus far.

Last year, the idea of Summer Story Time in the Park was developed. During the month of July, being careful not to interfere with summer school and local library programs, two volunteers for each day were recruited to read to families at parks in Rhinelander for a half hour twice a week. Attendance was good, and we handed out parent resources and free used books to children. This year, the program was tweaked slightly to create consistency and attendance has blossomed tremendously. The smallest group of attendees so far this year is still larger than the largest group last year. So far this year, we have had up to 77 attendees, well over half of which are children. The age range that my position encompasses are pre-K through 3rd graders, but children as young a few months and as old as junior high have attended Summer Story Time in the Park. Even the local YMCA brings over up to two dozen young day care children to listen to stories. It seems that children of all ages enjoy grabbing a corner of a blanket to listen to fun stories about frogs and monkeys and silly stories about snowstorms and bedtime. Rain or shine, we show up to parks on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons to read to anyone who wants to listen.

After listening to a variety of community volunteers read stories, parents are informed about the resources available and the children are invited to choose one free book to keep. We believe that attendance at Summer Story Time in the Park can help lead to a literacy-rich home environment. I also created “Kindergarten Kits,” with the help of the District Reading Specialist. I put together a variety of resources for parents, flashcards of the alphabet and kindergarten sight words, as well as including a short DVD that was created by a high school English class to model good reading techniques. The fifty folders were decorated by a high school Early Childhood Development class. The kits are explained and handed out to parents who have a child going into pre-K or Kindergarten.

It’s a joy to see children excited to start reading and how thrilled they are to pick out a book of their very own!

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