Libraries are becoming standard in Bay County's kindergarten classrooms

Libraries are sprouting up in the kindergarten classrooms of Bay County, thanks to the efforts of several different community groups.

Funding for the program comes from the Bay City Morning Rotary and Rotary International District Grants. The project is also supported by the Wirt-Rivette Group, Bay Area Community Foundation, Bay County Library System, and the Bay-Arenac ISD.The project began with the Bay City Morning Rotary Club. One focus of the Rotary is literacy, but the group took that a step further this year as the club began gathering books to create libraries in kindergarten classrooms.

Diane Fong, Executive Director of the Bay Area Community Foundation and chair of Rotary committee that spearheaded the project, says the earlier students get started reading, the better their chances of academic success.

“Students need to be literate by the third grade,” she says.

From kindergarten to third grade, children learn to read. After that, they read to learn. If they miss early reading milestones, they struggle to catch up later.

“So, our youngest ones, if they’re not at the point they can read, it becomes incredibly challenging to have success through academics,” Fong says.

For years, Rotary has handed dictionaries and thesauri to students, but decided they “needed to provide younger students opportunities to experience the joy of reading and have access to literature.”

The Morning Rotary Club gifted about 60 books to each classroom.One of the problems teachers face is schools often don’t have the budget to provide books to kids. Instead, teachers dig into their own pockets to provide resources the school budget can’t provide. That leads to disparities in what is available in different schools.

“We wanted to make sure they had the resources to have these in their classrooms and so that all kindergarten students would have access, not just certain classrooms,” Fong says.

Rotary partnered with other agencies to create the libraries. One partner is Bay-Arenac Intermediate School District Early Literacy Coach Alexandria Hall. “She’s a program partner and phenomenal,” says Fong, adding, “Alex is the one who made this happen and is the boots on the ground.”

Kindergarten teachers often had to dig into their own pockets to give kindergarteners access to books in their classrooms. Now, schools such as Washington Elementary, will have in-class libraries for kindergarteners.Hall says she got involved to support teachers “create a print-rich environment for our youngest learners,” and to provide children “opportunities in school to grow to see themselves as members of a community of readers.”

The goal of the program is to give all kindergarteners in Bay County the opportunity to discover the joy of reading.Another partner in the project is the Bay County Library System and Director Trish Burns. In each of the classrooms, there are about 60 books, many of which came from the Bay County Library System. Fong says when books are rotated out of the library (and are age and reading level appropriate), they are placed in the kindergarten collections.

The cost of the project is between $11,000 and $12,000, says Fong. Funds were raised by the Bay City Morning Rotary, and Rotary International District Grants. The project is also supported by the Wirt-Rivette Group and the Bay Area Community Foundation along with the Library System and Intermediate School District.

Fong says after the New Year, the remaining kindergarten libraries will be set up in all of the kindergartens in Bay City, Bangor Township, Pinconning, and Essexville-Hampton school districts.
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