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Building a lifelong love of literacy

Lydia Johnson | May 28, 2019

A Kiwanis volunteers read to school children.

This past October, the Kiwanis Club of North St. Andrew in Kingston, Jamaica, started a program to feed children's stomachs, spirits and minds. 

Through their Early Literacy Initiative, members read to 3- to 5-year-olds attending St. Paul Basic School and National Baptist Basic School. Members read to a total of 300 students and alternated visits between schools each month. 

“At age 5, we know that about 35 percent of the child’s brain would have been developed,” says, Dwayne Cargill, program chair. “It is important that we start off our children at a good foundation.”

Early prevention, he adds, can change future outcomes for these students, many of whom live in high-crime, low-income areas with little encouragement to achieve academically.

“In this community, we found that reading is not fun. We found that education is not (considered) so very important.” 

To counteract that mindset, the club provides positive learning experiences that encourage the young students to stay in school. 

Members donate the monthly program cost of JMD$10,000 or generate the amount through fundraising. 

On reading days, members prepare breakfast for students of tea, fried dumplings, porridge and biscuits. Kiwanians lead devotion — an integral part of Jamaican school culture — and then members disperse to read chapter and picture books to each class. Afterward, one class receives a donation of books.

Celebrity literacy ambassadors Melanie Walker, a 400-meter Olympic world champion, and Owen Wilson, a local media personality and educator, read to students and make the initiative even more fun. And it’s working: Teachers report that their students are now more engaged than ever. 

“Every month, the principals are calling me to ask if we’re coming,” Cargill says.
Jamaica's Early Childhood Commission, which is responsible for monitoring and certifying all early childhood institutions, also is invested in the program’s success.
“They are a key part of the initiative,” Cargill says.

The commission will receive donations from a book collection drive the club launched to commemorate its 45th anniversary. Books will be distributed to the two Early Learning Initiative schools and 20 additional Early Childhood Commission-monitored schools.
Fostering children’s development is an opportunity that the Kiwanians take seriously, says club President Barrington Miller.

“They are our future, and we need to give them any and all support that we can.”

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