United Way looks to help young learners with book drive

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A 6-year old kid plops on the steps, attempting to bunny loop her shoes as Mom packs a Spiderman backpack full of new-smelling folders and Crayola crayons. It’s a terrifying day but will be one of the most liberating of a child’s life so far: the first day of kindergarten.

What should be the beginning to a child’s education in school should not be a beginning of an education at home. Fifty percent of children in Duluth are not prepared in language and literacy when they first take their desks in kindergarten, according to the United Way of Greater Duluth. It’s something the group wants to change.

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The United Way of Greater Duluth’s Big Red Bookshelf is working toward a goal of 25,000 book donations by Nov. 30. So far, the drive has received roughly 16,000 donations.

“The long-term goal for the Big Red Bookshelf is to make the shelves as available as possible for children and families to access,” said Courtney Schmidt, the coordinator for the Big Red Bookshelf. “Reading is such a fundamental aspect of success in school and life, and the more children are exposed to books and see it as fun thing to do, the more likely they are to enjoy reading and make it a lifelong hobby.”

Kathleen Akervik shares her passion for language arts and reading with her students at Duluth’s Piedmont Elementary School, which encourages programs like the Big Red Bookshelf to encourage reading, especially for young children.

“(The community) needs to know that the early years set the stage for years to come,” Akervik said. “Children need to have strategies set in place by third grade. They need to learn strategies that they can use in all areas of reading. If this doesn't happen early, they have a hard time catching up later. It gets more difficult as each year goes by.”

Statistics from the volunteer organization “Do Something” sheds light on the state of literacy in the United States, one being that “two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. (More than) 70 percent of America’s inmates cannot read above a fourth grade level.” Twenty five percent of American children will spend their lives never knowing the joy of picking up and reading a book, according to "Do Something."

“Children are learning to read until third grade and then reading to learn,” Schmidt said. “If we can help more children find fun in reading, they are more likely to do better in school, which will help them later on in life.”

For young children, reading not only strengthens and educates their minds; it gives them the power of creativity and hope. With every turning page, books teach about life -- the good, the bad and everything in between.

“We want the Duluth community to support their local United Way,” Schmidt said. “That might mean donating their new or gently used books, giving a financial gift to our community campaign or volunteering. Every one of these options will make a difference to area youth."

“We also want any parents and caregivers to know how important reading to the children in their life really is. Reading a book a day can have a positive impact, and it’s fun.”

For more information about how you can help and where you can drop off books, visit the United Way’s book drive website or reach Schmidt at 218-726-4729.

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