CHILOQUIN — Imagine, instead of an ice cream truck, a reading truck. It could drive through rural Chiloquin, Fort Klamath and Sprague River, showing families how to teach young children about early literacy, and giving out goodies along the way.
Or, businesses could offer little prizes to children for reading and spelling the names of products correctly.
Or, the KCHS low-power FM radio station at Chiloquin High School could host a storytime hour, where families tell tales and Klamath Tribes traditional folklore.
Or, an iPad could teach young Klamath Tribal children how to speak and read their native languages.
Or, a van could drive to rural homes and pick up families to go to the library for storytime, much like churches drive families to Sunday services.
These are all possibilities thought up by a group of people hoping to improve literacy, and reduce poverty, in the Chiloquin area.
It started with the StORytime program at Chiloquin Elementary School, which is part of a statewide campaign to encourage families to read, talk, play and sing to build vocabulary and literacy skills in young children. It kicked off with a big event at the school in October.
Last week, the Oregon Solutions program joined with StORytime, hoping to expand on that mission.
The StORytime program, Chiloquin Elementary, Oregon Child Development Coalition Head Start, the Klamath Tribes and many others are striving to ensure students are ready to read when they arrive at school, and are reading at grade level by third grade — an indicator of future success in school.
Those education goals can lead to other goals in the community, argued Bev Stein, who coordinated the StORytime/Oregon Solutions meeting last week.
“Prevent poverty, increase prosperity by making sure all the Klamath Tribes children and the Chiloquin community children are prepared to read when they enter school,” Stein said.
Bridging the gap
An often cited statistic is known as the “word gap.” Children in affluent homes hear 30 million more words by age 3 than children in poor families.
“It’s not just having us read more to kids,” said Brett Walker, early learning division, Oregon Department of Education. “It’s how do we think about those children ages birth to 3 to make sure they are being raised in and exposed to really language-rich environments. It’s not just about putting books in front of kids.”
Those 30 million words don’t have to be fancy academic language, he said. They don’t even have to be in English.
“The hard work we’re trying to do is about getting adults talking to kids, because it matters,” Walker said.
While the mechanics of reading is covered in school and in time reading books, StORytime tries to hit on the two other concepts in early reading: oral language development and content knowledge. It teaches families to implement strategies that incorporate reading into everyday life.
“This is not just about reading to children. Of course that’s important, but there are a lot of different ways of engaging parents and the community in making sure kids get that early stimulation. It might be talking, it might be reading, it might be singing. There’s all kinds of ways children are stimulated to improve their possibility for good literacy later.”
Also important is meeting families where they are, said Kirstin Gimbel, StORytime staff lead for office of the Oregon Chief Education Officer.
Families face many barriers to supporting their children, Gimbel said, ranging from access to available programs, to speaking English as second language and feeling a lack of confidence about whether they can adequately support their child.
“To simply struggle with making ends meet and not having the ability to focus on things like reading, which ultimately seems trivial when you’re trying to put food on the table,” she said. “The campaign really intends to meet families where they are.”
The two biggest barriers, those at last week’s meeting said, are transportation and time. That’s where the suggestion for a van to pick families up and take them to the library came from. Another idea was to serve dinner — saving a family the time of making dinner and providing a free meal in the process.
Ellsworth Lang, general manager of the Crater Lake Junction Travel Center, said children need the structure they often don’t get at home. Getting businesses involved to provide meals is another way to bring people in.
“If you have food, they’re going to show up,” he said. “That might be a great, great idea.”
On the Oregon Solutions side of things, the Chiloquin group started forming a committee last week. Stein hopes the governor will designate it as an official Oregon Solutions project by the end of the year. Then, the group will meet several more times and the end product will be a declaration of cooperation, where everyone says how they will work to help improve early literacy in Chiloquin.
To get started the StORytime project in Chiloquin received a $25,000 early literacy grant from the Oregon Department of Education.
“It’s not a large amount of money, not a lot of time to do something with it,” Walker said. “What we’re really hoping is it can be seed money and foundational money for the work you’ll be doing in your communities focused on early literacy and the StORytime campaign.”