Champaign County school district kicks off new reading program

The Read, Imagine, Soar program, a key part of the district’s new five-year plan, was rolled out to faculty in August and will officially begin this month.

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“This is the result of a Community Connector grant, so I would say it is unique in Champaign in that we’ve had six partner organizations that have come together to create it,” Graham Superintendent Kirk Koennecke said.

The program has two parts. The first will be to provide free reading materials in the homes of preschool-aged children in the Graham district through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program.

“We will make sure we register families in the area to provide these resources at no cost to them,” Koennecke said. “Research shows us that the more prepared the child is entering kindergarten, the more successful he or she will be.”

The second part is support through intervention and tutoring for students in need in the first through fifth grade.

Koennecke said he worked with Sandy Arnold, executive director of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, to get the program rolling. He then connected with Kerry Pedraza, the executive director of the United Way of Clark, Champaign and Madison Counties to push the project along.

“We would like to not only see it support Graham families now, but we want to ramp it up to support all families in Champaign County and then maybe even further in the future,” said Koennecke.

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Seeking out resources to sustain the foundation over time will be part of Jennifer Harvey‘s job. The 1997 Graham graduate and new program director had been a stay-home mom for several years. However, she had already been looking into what it might take to get the Dolly Parton program into the district on her own when she heard about Graham’s plans.

“It really was the perfect storm, with everything coming together,” Harvey said. “It is more than I had ever hoped for. It is going to be a wonderful program for our community.”

Children will receive a book per month in the mail free of charge, with the goals of creating an opportunity for parents to read and bond with their child and build the family’s library.

“It’s proven that if there are books in the home, the kids are going to be more prepared,” Harvey said.

Koennecke and the district’s leaders are convinced of its importance.

“We want to encourage families who live in the Graham Local Schools to not only take advantage of the program, but welcome them to our schools for help,” he said. “We want to help families who aren’t yet enrolled in district to become familiar with us.

“At the end of the day, this is about building community through this support,” he added. “The more prepared a family feels when they send their child off to school for the first time, the more successful we are going to be.”

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