November 11, 2011


Arlington’s Youngest Residents Visit the Central Library to “Learn Well”

Marveling wide-eyed at the tall stacks of books, the tiny pre-kindergarten students quietly followed each other through the Arlington Central Library’s Children’s Department. They sang and laughed with librarian Laureen Jacobs, excitedly pointed out the Clifford poster on the wall and beamed when they were entrusted with their first library card and bright red book bag.

The smallest library visitors arrived by school bus from Rankin Elementary School, which is part of an early-literacy effort aimed at 18 Title I Arlington Independent School District elementary schools that feed into Sam Houston High School.

The United Way’s “Learn Well” educational initiative is designed to boost on-time graduation rates. The ten-year effort, which began last year, funds strategies that promote early learning among pre-school children, reading skills among children in grades 1-3, and career and graduation planning for middle school students. The work starts with the school district’s youngest.

Strategies include encouraging parent participation, identifying and intervening with at-risk students, and collaborating with community organizations like the Arlington Public Library.

Neva Huston, who teaches bilingual pre-schoolers at Rankin, said that after her students visit the library, they mimic what they see.

“They’re taking more enjoyment in books and going into the classroom library and pretending to read,” she said.

The AISD collaboration with the public library also encourages regular library outings between children and their parents.
“Now they’re bugging their parents to come to the library,” Huston said. “It all starts with them.”

“It’s about getting parents to be their child’s first teacher,” said Cary Siegfried, the library director.

She said the Arlington Public Library and United Way have joined to work with the school district toward a similar goal.

“It’s wonderful because a lot of parents who might not come into a library, have a lot of trust in their child’s school,” Siegfried said. “It’s a great way to let them know about library services.”

Other early childhood literacy efforts include weekly story times at all library locations designed specifically for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and families. The library also takes early childhood literacy programs to the area schools by offering Lee y Serás (Read and You Will Be), a national early literacy initiative that empowers families and communities to foster children’s literacy development. In addition, Life Through Literacy, a program designed to inform expecting and parenting teens on ways they can develop early literacy skills, is also offered at area high schools.

Siegfried said the library staff benefits from the partnership, too.

“It’s so much fun to see the kids coming off the school bus and then leave the library with their library cards and red bags,” she said. “It’s the best part of my day.”

As the children boarded the bus back to school, Librarian Jacobs waved and called out: “Use your library card and come see me again. And bring your mom and dad.”


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