Four-year-olds at Bishopville Primary School likely did not recognize their special guest.
But when actress Jennifer Garner sat down in the rocking chair and read “Quick as a Cricket” to them, they were full of giggles and exclamations and, when she finished the book, urged her to “Do it again! That was fun!”
Garner – an artist ambassador for Save the Children – stopped by the school Wednesday to learn how the child-advocacy organization’s programs are impacting S.C. children.
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An international child-welfare aide program, Save the Children has U.S. programs aimed at promoting early childhood literacy and health for children starting at birth.
At Bishopville Primary School, Save the Children makes after-school programs possible and sends books home with children, among other benefits, said Principal Lei Washington.
But for children ages birth to 5 years, the program sends early childhood advocates into the homes of high-poverty families to teach parents about the importance of literacy starting at birth.
Save the Children currently partners with 15 communities in six S.C. counties, serving 6,616 children.
Garner tagged along Wednesday when Gloria Burris, a Save the Children early childhood coordinator, visited the home of Tony and Rachelle Dinkins.
Twice a month, Burris visits the family to bring books and share tips to boost the reading skills of the couple’s two children, 13-month-old Ezekiel and 5-year-old Isaac.
Burris and other early childhood coordinators also help the family find other services they might need, such as health care, nutrition assistance or transportation.
A bit bashful, Ezekiel eventually warmed up to the strangers crowding his living room.
The toddler played with a ball and, sitting in his father’s arms, flipped through a book while uttering the beginning formations of words.
Burris chatted with the Dinkins, who have been struggling since Tony lost his job and his primary mode of transportation. A homemaker, Rachelle is working on getting her GED.
Rachelle later said that she did not fully realize who Garner was until the Hollywood star left. Now she has a story to share with others.
“I realized it as she walked out my door – I had a movie star in my house,” Rachelle said.
After the visit, Garner – who has three young children with husband Ben Affleck – said she visits homes to get a sense of “what life looks like” for families who struggle to overcome poverty, “how hard they’re trying and what kind of leg up could be helpful to their children or to them.”
Garner was visiting South Carolina with Mark Shriver, who ran Save the Children’s U.S.-based programs for more than a decade before shifting into advocacy, promoting early childhood programs nationwide.
Shriver said Save the Children programs have been in the Palmetto State for more than a decade.
“There’s a lot of progress,” he said, “but there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Early education programs are “the most important investment we can make as a country” to get children ready for school.
“If they’re not ready for kindergarten then they’re going to struggle for the rest of their academic career, so that early investment is crucial,” he said.
Shriver and Garner were headed to Columbia Wednesday to meet with Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman. The two also are scheduled to visit with state lawmakers for the screening of a film about poverty.
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Save the Children in S.C.
At a glance:
▪ 6,616 children served.
▪ 15 communities in six counties are partners: Barnwell, Clarendon, Florence, Lee, Orangeburg and Union.
▪ Children in the program read on average 60 books during the school year and show literacy gains that average 5.3 months of schooling.
S.C. programs includes three programs:
▪ Early Steps to School Success provides home visits to help parents develop strategies for improving their children’s literacy, starting during pregnancy to age 5.
▪ The Literacy Program provides focuses on literacy skills for children through sixth grade.
▪ The Healthy Choices Program increases access to regular physical activity.