The DeKalb Public Library “Little Learners” Program recently received a $1,000.00 grant from the DeKalb County Community Foundation in support of the Outreach Program at the Early Learning and Development Center, DeKalb School District.
To continue the initiative of taking the DeKalb Public Library story time programs out to the community, the Little Learners Outreach Program at the Early Learning and Development Center (ELDC) has been an effective way to enrich an existing program in DeKalb that serves an “at risk” population. After conferring with Susan Peterson, director of 4-C, and Amy Crook, DeKalb district bilingual coordinator, the youth services staff at the library was steered toward a partnership with the Early Learning and Development Center in DeKalb during the fall of 2016. This program services the “at risk” pre-school population for the DeKalb School District, which includes Cortland and Malta. The children range in age from three to five years old. 100% of the students are enrolled because of a qualifying need, as evidenced by pre-school screening or by family financial needs. The principal, Lisa Gorchels, has had frequent communications with the library youth services staff to ensure the program’s success. The school houses a total of approximately 300 students, half in the morning and half in the afternoon. There are five pre-K classrooms, one bilingual pre-K classroom, and three Early Childhood special education classrooms for both morning and afternoon. Due to the needs of the preschool population, the school added a classroom in September, which has increased their total enrollment.
Marti Brown, the “Little Learners” outreach teacher, has gone to the school each Tuesday and presented her library program to one classroom each week. Her program is centered around a different theme each week and activities include reading books, singing songs, using puppets, finger rhymes, felt board figures, and incorporating movement. The program includes reading aloud the book that would be given to each student. Each child is given one of the free books to take home that day. The goal of the program is to teach basic early literacy concepts, expand vocabulary, and foster a love of books and reading.
Each of the children in both the morning and afternoon sessions receive a book during the fall and spring semesters. This includes bilingual children who receive children’s classics that are written in Spanish or dual language. To extend the lesson, each child takes home a sheet that includes the song lyrics on one side and an early literacy lesson and activity on the reverse side. Additionally, representatives from the DeKalb Public Library attend the parent night at the school, held twice a year in conjunction with 4-C, to promote library usage and answer questions about library programs. Library event calendars are also distributed to the families each month.
“Reading, as well as talking and singing, is viewed as important in increasing the number of words that children hear in the earliest years of their lives. Nearly two decades ago, an oft-cited study found that by the age of 3, the children of wealthier professionals have heard words millions more times than have those of less educated, low income parents, giving the children who have heard more words a distinct advantage in school. New research shows that these gaps emerge as early as 18 months.” (The New York Times, June 24, 2014)
Except for the cost of the books, a portion of the program is financially supported by the DeKalb Public Library, including the salary and gas expenses of the program teacher. This has been an excellent partnership between the DeKalb School District at-risk preschool program, the DeKalb Township, the DeKalb County Community Foundation, and the DeKalb Public Library. With the support of both the Youth Engaged in Philanthropy (YEP) Grant and the COY Grant, each of the nearly 300 children at ELDC will receive a free book both in the fall and spring of the 2018-19 school year. This program received the 2017 Altrusa Literacy Award last May.