Children and teachers from Bulloch County Schools raised more than $6,200 in September for Ferst Readers. By donating their spare change in a competitive drive, more than 5,200 children from 300 classrooms collected 742 pounds of change. Student organizations from Southeast Bulloch Middle, Southeast Bulloch High and Portal Middle High also participated.
Ferst Readers of Bulloch County partners with the school district to encourage reading, improve literacy in pre-school children and encourage families to read at home by supplying free books. Ferst Readers mails new books and literacy materials free of charge each month to children in Bulloch County who are five-years-old and younger.
The top fundraising class from each elementary school received a pizza party, and the overall winner, Jontia Grace’s fifth-grade class from Mill Creek Elementary, will receive a customized writing workshop as part of the Georgia Southern Writing Project provided by the university’s Department of Writing and Linguistics.
“The Georgia Southern Writing Project is excited to celebrate with the winning classroom,” explained Amanda Hedrick, a co-director and lecturer with the Project. “We will create a fun, engaging workshop for Ms. Grace’s students and encourage them to continue to play with writing inside and outside the classroom.”
“Learning to read is key to a child's success, and we are so pleased to see our community working together to take early childhood literacy seriously,” said Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson. “Our partnership with Ferst Readers addresses a critical piece of the puzzle, and moves us beyond conversation to a true community engagement solution that really does help children get excited about reading and learning to read at an early age.”
Currently more than 800 children receive books from Ferst Readers’ all-volunteer community action team. The school district praises significant work like this being done in the community by organizations like Ferst Readers, the Altrusa Club and the Statesboro Regional Library.
Bulloch County Schools recently surveyed more than 400 parents with young children and discovered that more than 50 percent did not have access to language resources, lacked access to the local library, and had less than 10 books at home. Additionally, state data shows that only 75 percent of Bulloch County’s children enter Kindergarten with the skills educators expect to see, and in some school zones, it dips to 50 percent.
“This affects academic achievement levels throughout early elementary as our teachers work diligently to narrow achievement gaps and ensure that all children can read on grade level by third grade,” Wilson said.
The ability to read on grade level by third grade is an early indicator of high school success.
“Ferst Readers addresses a key reason why parents do not read to their young children - the availability of quality books in the home,” said Patrick Kelly, a leader for Ferst Readers. “According to the National Commission on Reading, the single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school.”
Ferst Readers serves more than 800 children in Bulloch County, but Kelly estimates that more than 3,000 remain eligible and could be registered for the program.
“Ferst Readers has received tremendous support from Bulloch County Schools, but we need continued support from the entire community to improve literacy,” he said.
Ali Byrd, a local mother of two boys said: “They (sons) simply love receiving books from Ferst, and every book we receive is well loved and read over and over.”
Kirstee Aldrich, a mother of five said: “A friend shared this program with us, and we signed my then nine-month-old up. She is now almost three, and she brings me her favorite books to read during the day.”
United Way, the Walmart Foundation, Brooklet Kiwanis Club, the GSWP, Synovus Bank also support Ferst Readers. “It costs $36 per child per year to supply books for free to children,” “We fund it entirely from local donations.”
Ferst Readers is a 501(c)(3). For information or to register a child, contact Patrick Kelly at (912) 321-2212 or visit www.ferstreaders.org