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Tuesday February 9th, 2016 12:57PM

United Way wants community to celebrate literacy

By Mitch Clarke Editor
Friday is Celebrate Literacy Day in Gainesville as the United Way of Hall County continues its "Read Learn Succeed" initiative to make children better readers and more successful students.

As part of the day's events, United Way will give a bag of books to kindergarteners at New Holland Elementary School and to third-graders in the Hall County Head Start program, said Jackie Wallace, president and chief professional officer of United Way.

Wallace said the idea of the literacy initiative came from conversations she had with community leaders, including Gainesville School Superintendent Merrianne Dyer. Dyer told Wallace that children that don't have the proper foundation when they begin kindergarten are more likely to be poor readers, to struggle academically and to drop out of school.

"The science is pretty clear that we need to start reading with children and building their vocabulary skills at a very young age," Wallace said.

Research shows that children who aren't ready for kindergarten are half as likely to read proficiently by third grade, which is considered the make-or-break point. Children who aren't reading proficiently by the end of the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

The problem is worse among children from low-income families. Studies have found that 62 percent of low-income children have no books at home. By age 2, poor children are already behind their peers in listening, counting and other skills essential to literacy. By age 5, a typical poor child recognizes only nine letters of the alphabet, compared to 22 for middle-class peers.

"Poverty has a powerful influence on a child's future success," Wallace said.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners and the Gainesville City Council have proclaimed Friday, as Celebrate Literacy Day. Dick Mecum, chairman of the commission, and Mayor Danny Dunagan will participate in the programs.

Of special interest to the children will be an appearance by Clifford the Big Red Dog, the title character from a popular children's book. Clifford will be at the New Holland and Head Start events, as well as visit children at The Longstreet Clinic's Center for Pediatrics and the neonatal intensive care unit at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

Wallace hopes that Friday's events will spur interest in reading among children and parents, particularly as the school year ends and something called the "summer slide" begins. On average, students lose approximately 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency over the summer months if they don't continue to read and learn.

Studies show that out-of-school time is a dangerous time for unsupervised children and teens. They are more likely to use alcohol, drugs, and tobacco; engage in criminal and other high-risk behaviors; receive poor grades; and drop out of school than those who have the opportunity to benefit from constructive activities supervised by responsible adults.

Wallace said United Way will continue to develop future activities to spur early learning for pre-school aged children.

Here are some ways you can support "Read Learn Succeed."
1. Help buy books for children from low-income homes.
2. Become a reading pal by volunteering to read to a student once a week.
3. Educate your employees about the importance of early learning by hosting a "lunch and learn" or including information in your newsletter, in a break room and other communication tools.
4. Host a book drive for your employees to give gently used or new book. Donate these books to a local daycare, preschool or non-profit.
5. Food fuels a child's mind so hold a food drive to help low-income families have adequate and nutritious food.
6. Host a book shower for a friend or co-worker expecting a baby.
7. Support a book swap program where parents of children can exchange books.
8. Take a child to visit your local library to get their own library card.
9. Become a partner in education with a local preschool or daycare.
10. Help an adult learn to read. The best gift a child can have is a parent who can read.

United Way hopes people in the community will do something on Friday that supports literacy, and Wallace wants to hear what you've done. Send your story to communication@unitedwayhallcounty.org.
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