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.
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.