Reading program pairing food with books gets underway

The third grade reading initiative kicked off its Munch and More program at Anson Elementary this week. The program is spearheaded by the summer learning loss task force – one of three tasks forces that also includes school readiness and attendance – of the Spread the Words-Read by Third campaign that earned Marshalltown All-America City designation.

Munch and More first got underway last summer. The program offers kids coming to the schools for their free summer meals a chance to sit down with a volunteer and have a book read to them after they eat. Franklin Elementary, which has been holding Munch and More since the beginning of June, hosts the program on Wednesday, and Anson hosts it on Tuesday and Thursday.

Lindsey Upah, Spread the Words-Read by Third coordinator, said 38 kids turned out to Anson Tuesday and more than 50 showed up Thursday, a significant increase from last year’s 20 or so kids.

She said efforts to make the program more widely known have been successful, as is evident from the increase in turnout. Organizers sent information home with students with the summer lunch menu and promoted it at events like Anson’s family night. The kids seem to want to come out specifically to read, Upah said.

“Kids love it,” she said. “They see the poster and are like ‘That’s where the books are, that’s where the books are; we want to go read’.”

Students who come to both days at Anson get a free book, Upah said. An average of nine volunteers for each session spend time reading to kids of all ages.

The program has also seen support from Iowa Public Television.

Bettie Bolar, chair of the summer learning loss task force, also sits on the Iowa Public Television broadcast board. She said when she heard about the station’s Ready for School program, and the grants it offers, she began telling the members about Spread the Words-Read by Third. She said she thinks the kicker was that the third grade reading initiative has the All-America City stamp of approval.

Bolar’s efforts secured the use of four iPads for the Munch and More program. The iPads are loaded with educational games, all of which PBS approves and are researched-based, she said.

“They are really very engaging games, and they will be another good learning tool for us to use,” Bolar said. “We all feel pretty good about being able to secure their materials and being able to rely on the fact that it is sound educationally.”

Along with the variety of games on the iPads, Bolar said PBS is also helping provide summer educational training for day care providers. The goal is to help day care providers understand the importance of literacy and help them incorporate it into their daily child-rearing routine.

It’s about making education, specifically reading, fun, Bolar said. Many of the games and training focus on engaging children, she said.

“It’s not plunking kids down in front of a TV and turning on some program,” she said.

Upah said the summer learning task force is also working with the school readiness task force to offer reading corners throughout Marshalltown. Although still in its preliminary stage, the program is simple: businesses would provide areas stocked with children’s books where parents could read to their kids when waiting for a prescription to be filled, their car to be fixed or their clothes to dry.

The task force plans to reach out to local businesses soon, Upah said, and hopes to have the reading corners useable this summer.

The third grade reading initiative is a three-year program that aims to get 90 percent of third graders reading proficient by 2016.