Connecting rural families to early care and literary services begins with supporting community involvement

Dec 9, 2021

The Kansas Masonic Literacy Center’s (KMLC) Grow Lead Read Project recruits and supports early childhood committees from local communities to promote resources and opportunities in early literacy and education.

According to the Economic Innovation Group’s Distressed Communities Index (DCI), communities in rural zip codes are more likely to be distressed as their continued struggle for services and resources was exacerbated by the pandemic. In the southwestern Kansas frontier counties of Greeley, Hamilton, Kearny, Morton, Stanton, and Wichita, all six counties are near or exceeding the state poverty rate. The availability and accessibility of early care resources and services is critical for families with children under the age of five, and many rural Kansans lack the support and opportunity to gain skills and resources that ensure a child’s healthy development. In areas of low population, a lack of community involvement can make the disparities in resources more pronounced and services difficult to access for local families.

The Solution

The Grow Lead Read Project created early childhood committees in these six frontier counties to better support families access early care and literacy services and resources. With the aim of establishing local self-reliance for each committee, the Grow Lead Read Project provided awareness campaigns that emphasized early brain and literacy development for children, education opportunities for parents, and professional development for caregivers, with the overall goal of empowering and supporting each committee to continue the work in the future.

The Outcome

With Quality Subgrant funding, KMLC has recruited members for an early childhood committee in each county (Greeley, Hamilton, Kearny, Morton, Stanton, and Wichita) to provide a point person and to help promote enrollment and participation in Dolly Parton Imagination Library (DPIL), 1000 Books Before Kindergarten, and The Growing Brain, a free online brain development course approved by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for child care professionals and parents. 200 educators and child care providers enrolled in the recent Trauma, Connection, and Emotional Wellness course, and 126 children are currently enrolled in DPIL. In addition, KMLC has partnered with The Teachers College at Emporia State University in Tale Time, a program that matches providers, educators, and parents with an ESU educator to review a book from DPIL.

“Rural areas offer a unique opportunity for establishing impactful early childhood committees. Maximizing the overlap of local officials, committee memberships, volunteer programs and schools, in a connected and collaborative effort, the early childhood committees can create a shared vision for children from birth to five years of age. The early literacy collaborative then can make resources visible and accessible to their communities. As we gain momentum, it will be essential that KMLC continues to support the effort, enthusiasm, and commitment of the early literacy collaborative. It is an exciting time for our children engaged in these programs.”

~ Tasia Markowitz, Kansas Masonic Literacy Center director.

Connect

To learn more about the Grow Lead Read Project and how it supports early literacy for families, email Director of the Kansas Masonic Literacy Center Tasia Markowitz, at tmarkowitz@emporia.edu.

What’s Next?

KMLC will continue to support each early childhood committee in all six counties. Each committee will maintain a record of how many awareness campaign materials were given or mailed to families with children under 5, and how many of these families register for the Imagination Library, 1000 Books Before Kindergarten, and other services for these families. Promotion of free professional development will continue to be advertised.

Spotlight

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