GREAT FALLS — Decades of research has shown that there’s a correlation between poverty, lack of access to reading materials, and lower literacy rates. This year KRTV and the Scripps Howard Foundation are aiming to bridge that gap through the “If You Give a Child a Book…” campaign.
This year’s recipient is Sunnyside Elementary School in Great Falls, and to the teachers, students, and staff who fill the hallways it’s a special place.
“The biggest thing that I’ve found here and part of the reason I wanted to come here is just the Sunnyside family, the feeling of a tight knit community,” said principal Brian Held. “Everybody looking out for each other and everybody looking out for our kids and our families.”
It’s a place where you can spark a lifelong love of reading and learning. Just ask third-grade teacher Megan Schaak – she was a student at Sunnyside in the 1990’s, and now she’s beginning her teaching career here.
“It was the teachers that put their mark on me and ever since I was in Mrs. Ryerson’s first grade class I wanted to be a teacher,” Schaak said. “And so to start my career at the school that I went to has been phenomenal. I couldn’t have asked for a better start.”
But the students at Sunnyside do face some challenges. Sunnyside is a Title I school, which means most students enrolled qualify for free or reduced-price lunches – and indicator of higher poverty rates. Students from low-income households often lack access to books in the home, and that puts them at a disadvantage to many of their peers.
Lacee Lewis and Lisa Moore are the intervention specialists at Sunnyside. They look at scores and progression to identify and work with students in danger of falling behind. They see the struggles many of these students face, firsthand.
“The challenges that they face is mainly that they’re not being exposed to language. They’re not being exposed to vocabulary. And so, without them being exposed to that, it makes it harder for them to read because they haven’t heard those words or heard how language works,” Lewis said. “So, if they’re being exposed to books and conversation, research shows that it gives them possibly three years more of schooling before they even enter school just by having books at a young age and a plethora of them in different genres.”
That’s why the getting books in the hands of students is so important, and programs like the “If You Give a Child a Book..” fundraising campaign are critical to ensuring future success.
Moore cites a quote that books are a mirror, a window, and a door. Children must see themselves in pages, see what’s out there through the window books provide and then use the lessons books provide them to walk through the door.
“Being able to read and read successfully opens up the world to them. So, they have lots of potential by being able to read,” Moore said. “And so this program that will allow our students to have access to more books, just give them more chances to see themselves and others and all the possibilities that are out there for them by having lots of books in their hands.”
KRTV and the Scripps Howard Foundation believe that if you give a child a book, you give a child a chance. Every $5 donation pays for a book that a student will get to take home, keep, and call their very own.
If you would like to make a donation, you can visit KRTV.com/giveabook, or you can text KRTV to 345345.
Last year’s campaign benefited West Elementary School, and with generous donations from the community and a matching gift from the Scripps Howard Foundation, raised more than $11,000 toward the purchase of five books per student at West.
Childhood Literacy and Academic Success
The literacy forecast for America’s children is sobering. According to the 2019 study by the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), twenty-five million children in the U.S. cannot read proficiently.
The “Decline By Nine”
The Impact on Lifetime Achievement
The Correlated Impact of Poverty
Poverty exacerbates the literacy divide even further.
Impact of COVID-19
Access to Diverse Reading Materials