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Voice Recognition

Spring 2019 PEAK Award

Laps, not apps
Dayton Independent’s Book a Week program encourages reading, one-on-one interaction with children, parents
Kentucky School Advocate
May 2019
By Matt McCarty
Staff writer 
Superintendent Jay Brewer reads a book to Dayton Independent preschool students. (Photo courtesy of Rose Communications)
Dayton Independent Superintendent Jay Brewer has noticed the trend of children using tech devices more and more at an early age. 

What those children are missing out on, he said, is the bond that comes from sitting down with a parent or loved one and reading a book.  

“There’s really no trick that I know of to get around that lap time experience for kids to have at an early age, and just developing that and self-regulation, secure attachment and vocabulary,” he said. “We want kids on laps, not apps, at an early age.”

To help foster those one-on-one reading experiences and encourage students to develop an interest in reading, Dayton Independent began its Book a Week program. 

The four-year-old program, which is funded through the Preschool Partnership Grant, gives students in Dayton’s preschool and Head Start programs and children in local daycares a free book every week for 30 weeks. 

“I was actually sitting down in a meeting with Scholastic, who’s a partner with us on this, trying to figure out what we could do to improve literacy in our younger kids and as we progressed through this meeting it just became very clear to me that all I really need are high-quality books for kids,” Brewer said.

Now, about 120 students receive 30 books a year to start their own home library. And while students are adding books to their shelves, Dayton Independent is adding the KSBA Public Education Achieves in Kentucky (PEAK) Award to its trophy case.
Superintendent Jay Brewer reads a book to Dayton Independent
preschool students. (Photo courtesy of Rose Communications)

The PEAK Award, given twice yearly, was established in 1997 to focus statewide attention on outstanding public-school efforts that enhance student learning and promote the positive impact of public elementary and secondary education in Kentucky.

“Getting books into homes is so important for academic success from kindergarten through high school graduation,” said PEAK judge Kimber Fender, a member of KSBA’s board of directors and the Campbell County school board. “This project reaches many children with the books they need to become strong readers and book lovers by kindergarten.”

Dayton spends about $12,000 a year on the books purchased through the Scholastic Literacy Partnerships program, Brewer said. Other districts in northern Kentucky are now replicating the program using Preschool Partnership Grants.

“This program is one all elementary schools should do. I love the idea of each child receiving a book a week,” said PEAK judge Bobbi Jo Kingery, vice president of programs for Kentucky PTA.

School-home connection
Since the program began, the percentage of students entering Dayton Independent ready for kindergarten has more than doubled. In the 2013-14 school year, just 28 percent of Dayton students were kindergarten ready as assessed by the Brigance Kindergarten Screener and 32 percent of students with early childhood education experiences were deemed ready. By the 2017-18 school year, 57 percent and 65 percent, respectively, were prepared for kindergarten.

Brewer attributed the jumps not only to the Book a Week program but to the district’s focus on early childhood education including its Born Learning Academy and Head Start.

“I think it’s a combination of things, but I think just simplicity,” he said. “If kids have a greater exposure to literature at a younger age and greater opportunities for literature exposure, they’re probably going to have a greater chance to be determined as kindergarten ready.” 

Brewer noted that Dayton Independent is a high poverty district with 85 to 90 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced-priced lunch. He said for some parents, spending $3 to $5 on a book is often impossible.

“I’m hoping somewhere in the back of the kids’ minds that (the program) helps build self-worth. ‘I’m worth something. When I was younger I did own books and I did have these things,’” Brewer said.
Dayton Independent preschool teacher Anna Kennedy shows the book “Abiyoyo” to student Deanndra Harris. (Photo courtesy of Dayton Independent Schools)
Before they send the books home, teachers place stickers on the front and back with instructions and activities to guide parents as they read with their child. Teachers choose vocabulary words for students and parents to focus on while reading, ask open-ended questions and tie the book into other content areas when possible. 

“While we have always read many books to our students in the classroom, there was not a school-home connection,” Theresa Fisette, a Dayton Independent preschool teacher, wrote in the program’s PEAK nomination. “This school-home connection is essential if we want to get families involved in their children’s learning.”
Dayton Independent preschool teacher Anna Kennedy shows the book “Abiyoyo”
to student Deanndra Harris. (Photo courtesy of Dayton Independent Schools)

‘Seeds of greatness’
Dayton school board member Carrie Downard’s 6-year-old son, Dylan, spent two years in the program prior to entering kindergarten this year.

“It’s so important to get kids to want to read at an early age,” she said, noting that once students fall behind in reading it’s hard for them to catch up. “So, to have the opportunity to have these books sent home with these kids where it’s theirs to keep and they can take pride in their book collection and getting their parents encouraged to read with them, I think it’s probably one of the most important things we get to do in preschool because that’s the foundation of all your learning.”

Alicia Sumpter has three children who have participated in the program. In a letter supporting the PEAK nomination, she wrote that her children have come home excited to share their new book every week.

“This program has changed the way we interact after school, the way we choose books to read and the way we read them with our children,” she wrote. “They are being exposed to more language and ideas than they would be without the Book a Week program.

“Bringing home that new book every week makes us pause in our daily tasks and shift focus to reading together even if it’s only for a few moments,” Sumpter added. “In addition, the activities and topics give us reasons to discuss the world around us, how we relate to others, and how our culture is similar or different to others.”

Soon more students will be able to benefit from the program. Dayton, along with four other districts, won a three-year federal grant for a modified version of the Book a Week program that will expand the program through 12th grade. Kindergarten students will receive 12 books a year and students in first through 12th grades will receive four books a year.

“I like to call our books seeds of greatness and I mean we’re just scattering them around like Johnny Appleseed,” Brewer said. “Our mission is to inspire, engage and grow, and now our kids are growing with these seeds of greatness.”
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