United Way Women’s Leadership Council Funds Grant For Troup County School System And Success By Six Community Collaboration

LaGrange, Ga., October 5, 2016 – Developing lifelong readers starts early. The United Way Women’s Leadership Council understands this, which is why the organization recently approved a grant for Troup County School System (TCSS) to purchase early learning books for the Pediatric Community Collaborative program.

This outreach targets local pediatricians because they see children for immunizations before children even start their first day of school. Nicole Kennedy, Parental Engagement Coordinator for TCSS said, “We see where students starting Kindergarten are not reading at the level they should. We had to be strategic and think of a way to reach students who have not yet made it to Troup County Schools. That is how the collaborative was born between the school system, Success by Six, and local pediatricians.”

The pilot program, focusing on children ages three-to-five, began this past summer at The Children’s Clinic in La-Grange. Within three weeks of a child receiving the first book, the office was calling Kennedy for more. Immunization Nurse, Amy Shepherd, has worked for The Children’s Clinic for nine years. She said, “Before we were approached about the partnership, I was purchasing books out of my pocket for the waiting rooms. Kids would ask could they take the books home but they couldn’t because it was for the waiting area. So, when Nicole (Kennedy) contacted us, I knew this was something we needed to do.”

Shepherd continued, “After the children receive their vaccines, we give them a book they can take home with them. We have books for all young ages and some in Spanish…while most of them are used to getting candy, they get very excited about the book. For those who are reluctant (about the book), I still challenge them to read. I tell them, ‘when you can come back in and read the entire book to me, I will give you a lollipop.’” The program seemed like a good mix of community partners according to Shepherd and Kennedy. The school system, which caters to Pre-K through 12th grade students, needed access to the 3-to-5 year-old age group. “We know these medical professionals are not full-time educators; they are dealing with immunizations and helping children stay healthy. We didn’t want it to be a disruption to their daily routines, so our thought process was if they just said, ‘20 minutes a day can pave the way’ during the pediatrician visit, then that was enough to help families understand that reading 20 minutes a day can set the stage for reading later in life,” said Kennedy.

In addition to the book for the child, parents receive colorful and easy-to-read literacy brochures that focus on developmental milestones and quick tips for expanding reading and vocabulary for pre-school aged children.

Kennedy was shocked and excited by the quick call for more books from Shepherd. Due to the rapid turnaround, she knew more funds would be needed to sustain the program. While seeking a grant for the Pediatric Community Collaborative, she heard about The United Way Women’s Leadership Council’s focus on early literacy. As a part of United Way, they provide grants for early learning initiatives in Troup County. Kennedy applied and was later awarded a one-time $2,000 grant through the Women’sLeadershipCouncil. Stephanie Preston, a member of Women’s Leadership Council, said the community need is there and the organization, along with Success by Six headed by former educator Gail Gordon, have tried different avenues for outreach. “As an organization of United Way, our main focus is early literacy. We have tried many approaches to early learning over the years, including a once a week pre-school for children ages three, four and five and their parents. Then, we decided to do outreach with readers in local preschools, reading with children at the church lunch programs, but we still saw the need for more.”

Preston, who is also Chairman of Merry Market, continued, “Now we have the partnership with the school system and pediatric offices. With this collaboration, we can reach a broader segment of the community. Gail (Gordon) and Nicole (Kennedy) were already working together, so it really seemed like a great connection to add another piece to the literacy puzzle. This way, as a community, we can help our early learners prepare for school and life.” Preston also stated the funds for early literacy grants through the United Way Women’sLeadership Council are provided from proceeds of the annual Merry Market event which is scheduled for October 21st and 22nd at the Callaway Conference Center. The theme for the event is Shop with a Purpose because proceeds are funneled back into Troup County organizations that provide early learning opportunities.

So far, over 400 books and brochures have been placed in the hands of early learners and parents who visit The Children’s Clinic. Now the pilot has extended to two additional pediatric offices in the county thanks to the collaboration between the school system, Women’s Leadership Council, United Way, Success by Six, Troup County Health Department, and the LaGrange Women, Infants, and Children program.

It is easy for parents to ensure their child is involved in literacy preparation by:

• Being interactive.

• Giving everything a name.

• Reading together every day. • Reading with fun in your voice.

• Knowing when your child is getting tired.

• Saying how much you enjoy reading together.

To learn more about Merry Market LaGrange, or to purchase tickets, visit merrymarketlagrange. com. To learn more about Troup County School System, visit troup.org and the Troup County School System Facebook page.