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VOL. 129 | NO. 84 | Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Imagination Library Celebrates 20 Million Books to Kids

By Bill Dries

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The Books From Birth program, originated in Tennessee, marked its 10th anniversary Monday, April 28, in Memphis with its 20 millionth book going to a 3-year-old girl.

Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam presents 3-year-old Tamera Tynes and her mother, Cierra, with a copy of “The Little Engine That Could” autographed by Dolly Parton.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Tamera Tynes received an oversized, hardback copy of “The Little Engine That Could,” which was almost as big as she was, from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and first lady Crissy Haslam.

Normally, the books arrive by mail at her home. For Monday’s occasion, Tynes and her mother, Cierra Tynes, came to the ballroom at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis.

Tamera sat a table with her mother and the governor and ate fruit cocktail. As television cameras surrounded her, Tyne’s grip on the big book tightened, and at times she clung to her mother as she took in the bright lights aimed at her.

“I have a lot of books,” she told reporters later, a bit more acclimated to the cameras.

The event was sponsored by The Daily News, St. Mary’s Episcopal School and NewSouth. Peter Schutt, president of The Daily News Publishing Co. Inc., is vice chairman of the board of the Shelby County Books From Birth program, a free program open to any and all children from birth to 5 years old.

Cierra Tynes said the books from the program have had a big impact on her daughter and her other children who have been part of the program in the past.

“I kind of hold her so she can get it out of the mailbox herself,” she said. “I think the books have helped her. … I think they have helped since she has to go to speech therapy, and that has helped a lot.”

Children up to the age of 5 are mailed a free book once a month from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, the Books From Birth partner organization. Tennessee has the largest state program in the country, with 220,000 books mailed statewide each month. Shelby County’s program is the largest in the state, with 37,000 books mailed monthly.

In the last 10 years, the program has distributed 2.8 million books in Shelby County, said the first lady, who also pointed out the books are an important factor in the goal of having children reading at or above grade level by the third grade.

“Children need to hear language and vocabulary and sentence structure from birth to prepare them to be strong readers and learn to read in kindergarten,” Crissy Haslam said. “Sending a book out once a month, having it arrive in their mailbox with their name on it, promotes reading in the home and helps parents understand, as well, the importance of reading with their children.”

The goal of reading at grade level by the third grade is a central part of the goals the Shelby County Schools board set to begin in the coming academic year.

By the latest achievement test scores, only 27 percent of third-graders in Shelby County Schools currently read at or above their grade level.

The results have been repeated numerous times by Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson as he and the board chart aggressive measures to improve the percentage.

Crissy Haslam said the statewide level of 46 percent needs improvement as well.

Gov. Haslam met with Hopson and his staff after Monday’s luncheon to discuss how the state may be able to help the school district’s literacy effort beyond the Imagination Library.

“One of the things we want to make certain of is that we have alignment – alignment with what we are teaching with what we’re testing – alignment with the efforts of the Achievement School District and Shelby County Schools,” he said.

Haslam also said he would have preferred to see the state’s public schools begin to use PARCC – Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers – student achievement tests in the next school year.

PARCC was to replace the exclusive use of Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) tests starting next year. But the Tennessee Legislature this year passed a bill that delays the move to PARCC to solicit requests for proposals on the testing, which is meant to be a companion to the state’s Common Core standards for student achievement.

“I think if you talk to most of our educators, the important thing was we keep teaching the Common Core state standards,” Haslam said of the continued use of TCAP. “At the end of the day for all of our students, it’s about higher standards. I think most of our educators would say it isn’t aligned as well as PARCC is with Common Core state standards. But it still will help us give an objective measure of how our kids are doing.”

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