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United Way of East Central Alabama helps Calhoun County youngsters grow love of reading

Books are gifts that expand your world. As Dr. Seuss said: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

United Way of East Central Alabama (UWECA) recently donated 2,000 books to kindergarteners and first-graders at all public and some private schools throughout Calhoun County. The gift of reading continues to pay off big dividends – with youngsters showing lots of enthusiasm – as they enjoy the free book, “Giraffes Can’t Dance” by British writer and illustrator Giles Andreae. The bestselling book helps dispel negative stereotypes.

But these books include a “little something extra on the cover – a QR code students can use to watch a volunteer read the story,” said Jessica Smith, coordinator of UWECA’s Imagination Library program.

Because of social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers have been unable to read to classes at Calhoun County schools. UWECA’s one-time gift of books helped “fill in the gap,” Smith said.

“We certainly plan on having volunteers back in the classroom in 2022,” said Smith, UWECA Marketing and Programs director. “If we have a sponsorship for 2022, we’d possibly be able to give books again.”

Kim Pentecost’s class at Piedmont Elementary School was among many that received the popular book.

“Early literacy for children is so important,” said Pentecost, lead pre-K teacher at Piedmont Elementary. “Everything we can do to enthuse kids to read, we need to do it.”

Pentecost showed the children how to use the QR code on the book, teaching them to use a smart phone to scan the square on the book’s cover to watch a video of a volunteer reading the story.

“My students love the book,” said Pentecost, who has taught for 14 years at Piedmont Elementary and 3 years at Oxford Elementary School. “Some students have said they scan the code at home and read the book with their parents. They understood, ‘Take this home and show Mama and Daddy.’ They know to re-watch the video.

“So Read Across America was a little different for us this year,” added Pentecost, who earned her bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in early childhood education from Jacksonville State University. “We watched the video together. We really appreciate the United Way’s gift – it gives books to children who may not ordinarily have books at home,” she said.

Pentecost said the children enjoyed reading the story in class: “They remember back to when volunteers read to us on the screen – they make that connection.”

In earlier years, Smith visited Piedmont Elementary to read to classes and met with teachers to inform them about UWECA’s Imagination Library program. Parents in Calhoun County are invited to enroll their child in Imagination Library to get a free book in the mail each month.

Cassie Royster, a first-grade teacher at Kitty Stone Elementary School in Jacksonville, thanked UWECA for the books. “My students loved reading them and filling in the blanks,” Royster said.

Jacki Lowry, whose daughter, Harrigan, attends Oxford Elementary, said her 5-year old loves “Giraffes Can’t Dance.” The Lowrys made sure to take the book with them on a recent beach vacation.

“Harrigan loves her books,” said Lowry, Community Development specialist in Alabama Power’s Eastern Division. Lowry also serves as state president of the Alabama Power Service Organization.

“As part of the Alabama Power Service Organization, we support Read Across America and suggest taking part in projects every year. This year was exciting to me because, as a parent, I was able to be a part of that experience and the excitement of reading with my child.”

In Pentecost’s view, the books helped make the 2021 school year a little brighter for students and teachers.

“I think it was a great thing the United Way did for us,” she said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)