Leadership Columbia project

In Columbia, a jump start to reading

brantin@thestate.comJanuary 24, 2013 

Five-year-old Janaiya Pendergrass listens to Helen Fellers read 'From Head To Toe' by Eric Carle. Students from Gonzales Gardens Child Development Center celebrated National Reading Day at USC's Center for Children's Books and Literacy. National Reading Day is designed to help pre-K through third-grade students develop the literacy foundation they need to become lifelong learners. The students got to listen to several books read by librarian Helen Fellers, get a tour of the stacks and each received a book to take home.

KIM KIM FOSTER-TOBIN — kkfoster@thestate.com Buy Photo

— Members of the 2013 Leadership Columbia Class are taking literacy head on this year and have targeted three Richland 1 elementary schools in a newly announced reading initiative.

Bradley, John P. Thomas and South Kilbourne elementary schools have been tapped for the Leading by Reading project that was revealed Wednesday.

The program will operate alongside the Midlands Reading Consortium and aims to recruit more volunteers readers and tutors while creating more nurturing spaces intended to get children excited about reading.

Leading by Reading is the major outreach of this year’s Leadership Columbia Class, which offers civic training and networking for young professionals and existing and emerging community leaders.

“Selecting this as our project was not an easy process, because so many classmates had other great ideas, too,” said Callison Rawl, a Leadership Columbia class member and project coordinator. “But we quickly saw a common theme come up in the issues we care about and wanted to impact ... unemployment, workforce readiness, homelessness, wellness, obesity, crime, economic development. Whatever came up as we brainstormed a project idea, it all tied back to education.”

Rawl said the three schools were chosen from a larger group served by the Midlands Reading Consortium because of specific challenges faced at those schools. She said in some cases the schools didn’t have the partnerships with businesses and organizations available in other areas. Additionally, South Kilbourne and John P. Thomas serve high-poverty student populations.

“We wish we could have worked with all of the schools, but these three really stood out,” Rawl said.

As part of the effort, Leadership Columbia will renovate or create Extreme Reading Rooms at the three schools to provide areas more desirable for reading.

“When we began visiting the schools, we realized that many of the rooms where Midlands Reading Consortium tutors were working with their students lacked resources or furniture setups conducive for a productive tutoring session,” Rawl said.

Bradley Elementary principal Erica Fields applauded the efforts of the Leadership Columbia class, noting they will complement the work already taking place in the schools.

“Anytime children can read in an environment that they feel comfortable and safe with an adult they respect, it’s never a bad thing,” Fields said. “This is enriching and enhancing the programs that we have already. This is like an added bonus that supports our main cause.”

Leadership Columbia is seeking volunteer readers and mentors for the Reading by Leading program.

“Our goal is to find local executives who are willing to make the commitment to allow their employees to serve as a tutor at no loss of pay or time,” Rawl said. “And many of our classmates are stepping up to serve as a tutor themselves.”

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer reader or tutor should call (803) 758-6983.

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