JCS students benefit from Rotary’s investment in literacy

NICHOLASVILLE – American author and radio personality Garrison Keillor once said that “A book is a gift that you can open again and again.” That statement is proving true as more than 700 students in Jessamine County Schools will receive the gift of literacy through matching grants from both the Rotary Club of Nicholasville and their Rotary International District, 6740.

The grant funds, totaling $3,100, were used to partner with the school district to purchase books for each first-grader in the six JCS elementary schools.

The project was spearheaded by Nicholasville Rotary member Jim Rogers, who first approached the district in 2019 about supporting early literacy efforts.

After discussion with Dr. Lori Hollen, JCS director of elementary schools, Rogers was invited to visit Red Oak Elementary to talk with Principal Andi McNeal and see firsthand what JCS teachers are doing to foster the development of early literacy skills in their students. Rogers heard about the success of a pilot project funded by Red Oak’s PTO and the district’s plans to expand the initiative, known as the Early Reader Program, to the other five elementary schools. Excited about what he saw at the school and the district’s creative efforts to increase the number of students reading on grade level, Rogers returned to his Rotary Club with a plan.

After a brief delay due to the pandemic, the Rotary grant helped to fund the expansion and the books for all first-graders were delivered to the district in January 2021.

The Early Reader Program provides students with an age-appropriate book to take home and read with family members. Books are carefully selected based on the difficulty level of the content and the program is designed for students to hone their skills during the school year, reading more independently as they gain proficiency. The goal is for each student to read the book independently by the end of first grade, signaling that the student is reading at grade level and ready for second grade material.

JCS Superintendent Matt Moore applauded Rogers and the Nicholasville Rotary Club for their efforts to support JCS students and said that the impact of the project will have a ripple effect for years to come.

“This is about so much more than the nearly 1,000 books that we received to distribute to our first-grade students,” Moore said. “It’s about instilling a love of reading and a love of learning in our very youngest students, one that we hope will last through high school and beyond. It’s about bringing families together to share the adventure of a good book. And, it’s about our community stepping up to ask how they can help to support our students and their families. My heartfelt thanks goes to everyone involved in the project. Please know that your actions are making a difference in the lives of these young people.”

Rogers, who initiated the project, agreed with Moore, pointing to research from the Barbara Bush  Foundation for Family Literacy indicating that nearly 22 percent of Kentucky adults have low literacy levels, ranking the state 37th out of 50 in the country.

“Rotary International has long-standing goals of strengthening the capacity of communities to support basic education and literacy and increasing adult literacy. While I am particularly passionate about adult literacy, our entire local Club was behind this project. My appreciation goes to Rotary International District 6740 for the matching grant funds, as well as to our other Nicholasville Rotary members, including Club President Mark Maloney,” Rogers said. “By fostering a love of reading in our young people, we encourage them to be life-long learners, increasing opportunities for their success and strengthening our entire community. Early on, we

should be working to get kids hooked on books so that by the third grade, they can shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Then, no matter their background, the sky’s the limit for their future.”

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