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Rotary clubs work to make reading fun

BY KATHLEEN FOXkfox@paducahsun.com

More than 2,000 second-grade students will have access to literacy adventures throughout the summer thanks to Rotary clubs throughout the Purchase area.

The Rotary clubs of Paducah, Mayfield, Murray, Marshall, Hickman, Clinton and Fulton joined together to create and provide a new summer reading backpack program to promote daily reading and writing activities, according to Missy Eckenberg, Paducah Rotarian and district project coordinator.

She said the foundation of the program was information gathered in the Impact Poverty Study completed by the United Way of Paducah and the Paducah Rotary Club. The results suggested a strong correlation between literacy levels and poverty and a dip in reading levels over the summer months, specifically for underprivileged students.

"We are providing the backpacks all over the Purchase District, where there is a Rotary Club, to promote the practice of reading and writing during the summer months and to keep literacy proficiency at a level that will enhance success in the third grade," Eckenberg said.

Locally, the study revealed that poor literacy has had a direct impact on the number of those living in poverty within the Purchase area. As a result, Eckenberg wrote a grant and received funding to implement the literacy program. The group chose second graders as the target age group because the year between second and third grade is critical to foster a love of learning, she said.

"With every backpack we deliver, we hope to keep literacy levels high to enhance the success in school and ultimately later in life when entering the workforce," she said. "During the first three years of school students learn to read, and for the rest of their lives they read to learn."

Mayfield Mayor and Rotarian Teresa Cantrell said the elementary school years, and specifically second grade, are pivotal to a student's ongoing reading skills and comprehension levels.

"We are targeting kids at the right age to establish those reading skills that will keep their minds sharp," Cantrell said.

The backpacks are adorned with the International Rotary symbol and include a direction sheet that encourages daily reading, a bookmark, Rotary book, reading comprehension workbook for third grade, composition book, mechanical pencils and a question and answer fact book about several academic subjects, plus reward coupons for meeting reading benchmarks.

Steve Fisk, member of the Marshall County Rotary Club, stressed the importance of fostering a reading habit early in life for elementary school students.

"All the Rotary clubs have a focus on how to increase literacy, so there is no better way than to help so reading skills don't go backward over the summer," he said. "It's a win-win for our counties."

Paducah Rotarian Ann Erikson agreed, adding: "When one second-grader jumps up and down and shouts 'this is amazing' and another one gives you a bear hug, and you get to repeat that excitement many times - you can count your day as nothing less than spectacular."

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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