Anchorage Public Library, AK
Many rural Alaskan communities have no bookstores. Those that have community libraries may not have the resources to provide adequate collections of books for infants and toddlers. “Our K-8 school provides the only library in our village,” commented Jennifer Goodrich, who facilitates a program for preschoolers in tiny Ekwok, AK. “Many of the materials in the library date back to the late 70s and early 80s.” The size and remoteness of Alaska is an additional challenge to providing these resources: villages and towns are scattered across the state and most are accessible only by boat or plane. Yet, it is essential for the state to overcome these challenges because nearly half the children entering kindergarten do not have adequate foundational skills for learning to read (Revised Alaska Developmental Profile, 2009-2010). Phonological awareness, print concept awareness, and rudimentary alphabet knowledge are wanting. In many communities, early care providers do not have access to early literacy concepts and need extra support to ensure that foundations for reading are being created during the first three years, when the brain is developing at a phenomenal rate. Recognized by IMLS (March 2012 News) as an exemplary early literacy program, the Ready to Read Resource Center (RRRC) has overcome geographic challenges unfathomable in the rest of the country to deliver high quality early literacy resources and educational workshops across the state.
Many Alaskan communities do not have regular access to fresh fruits and vegetables, let alone high quality print materials for young readers. Because of this scarcity of print materials, the RRRC decided to focus first on developing an easy, sustainable method to deliver books to rural Alaska. Led by program manager and librarian Terrie Weckerle, and a task force of rural educators and early learning specialists, the team put together a system to ship early learning kits via mail to libraries, health agencies, tribal council offices and child care providers. As the program grew, Weckerle added a traveling workshop, “Brain Development, Early Language and Literacy: the First Three Years.” As a result, Weckerle has become the unofficial early literacy specialist for infants and toddlers in the state. The Ready to Read Resource Center (RRRC) Key Elements: 1. Provide print materials for those who work with and care for infants and toddlers: 4 types of reading kits (tubs for early care professionals and bags for professionals and families). • Generous loan period • No fines for damaged/lost items • Over 250 reading kits containing nearly 6,000 items (books, toys, puppets, music CDs, with early lit tips and activities). • Available free-of-charge to any community with mail service. 2. Provide training sessions on early literacy, why it’s important, and what child care providers can do to help foster its development in infants and toddlers. 3. Partner with like agencies to advocate for early childhood development (provide public testimony, training workshops, early lit consultation, resources, etc.). IMLS Review (March 2012): http://www.imls.gov/early_literacy_projects_in_alaska_and_kansas_prepare_the_youngest_readers.aspx
Response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive – and recipients of RRRC materials are seeing results with their children. "I am really excited to see this love of reading and learning beginning to blossom in the young children," said Jennifer Goodrich of Ekwok, AK. "I have noticed that the children are more enthusiastic about coming to circle time, and they are able to pay attention to longer and more complex stories. Most importantly, I love that the parents are involved with their children in this process." Since it started four years ago, the RRRC has served more than 130 Alaska communities through outreach, workshops, advertisements, and articles in online and print publications. Weckerle has partnered with 22 different early childhood and education organizations to promote the Ready to Read program on a statewide basis. In rural, remote Nome, the Ready to Read program has given the Nome Eskimo Community the tools to create their own early literacy program called "First Teacher," which also uses lapsit-style bags of books and other materials. Many cultures in Alaska, including Alaska Natives, Pacific Islanders, and Southeast Asians have an oral tradition, and do not have a long history of reading print materials. “We’re moving people out of their comfort zone," says Weckerle. "We think that’s important, because it shows Alaskans how literacy can be empowering and open more doors. I get emails from borrowers who say thank you, we’ve been using these materials and we want more."