CROSBY -- When Kathy Hachey and Tammy Hawkinson said they wanted to see books being read to children at a young age, the kindergarten teachers at Cuyuna Range Elementary School meant business.
Now, thanks to the two teachers, school librarian Debbie Weide and other school volunteers, all newborns who are born at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby receive their own free library book collection and bookshelves before they're discharged from the hospital.
The innovative program called Reading Early Assists Development, or R.E.A.D., started last November as a way to promote reading to young children. The program got under way in April when the books and bookshelves began to be delivered to new parents at the Crosby hospital. So far about 170 bookshelves filled with books have been handed out. It includes information about the Crosby library, the district's early childhood education classes and more.
A Crosby-Ironton High School shop class made about 30 shelves, while teachers Dave and Tim Steinke, brothers who teach at Cuyuna Range Elementary School, and Dolly and Don Stewart, a retired Crosby couple, built the remaining bookshelves. The bookshelves were designed for children to be able to grab the books themselves when they are old enough to look at them on their own. Parents can stain or paint the bookshelves.
Hachey and Hawkinson said children whose parents don't or rarely read to them often can have problems when they begin the transition into kindergarten. They may be behind in school, have problems listening when stories are read to them or have a difficult time with their vocabulary skills. Many times children whose parents rarely read to them tell their teachers they don't like to read.
The two teachers brainstormed ways they could help their students become better prepared for school, to close the gap between students who are read to and those who aren't. They came up with the idea of the free books for newborns in the community and enlisted the help of Weide.
"We wanted the kids to use the books," said Hachey. "That these kids would put their hands on them."
The women wrote and received grants from the Family Services Collaborative in Crosby for $5,000 in 2002 and $5,000 in 2003. Kiwanis donated $100, while a school district reading grant provided another $5,000. The program intends to survey parents of kindergartners in five years to find out if they received the books and bookshelves and whether it made a difference in their decision to read more to their child.
"If we've reached one family who has brought their child up in literacy, we've reached our goal," said Weide. "We're trying to level the playing field."
"We can't wait for these five years to go by so we can see these kids in kindergarten," said Hawkinson with a smile.
The R.E.A.D. program doesn't have funding yet for 2004. If the program isn't funded next year, organizers say they'll continue the program somehow because they believe it can make a positive impact on the lives of Crosby area youth.
The habit of reading together can help strengthen the bond between a child and parent, said Hachey.
"Once they learn to love reading, they want to learn," said Hachey. "It's fun for them."
Elementary school staff members have taken turns bringing the books and bookshelves to the hospital for new parents. Weide said the program has helped staff members feel they are making a difference in their community.
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