Tue, 30 April, 2024

Read to Soar Program Reaching New Heights

Read to Soar Program Reaching New Heights

Read to Soar Celebrates 6 Years

Over the last six years, The Orchard Foundation – funded by The Rapides Foundation – has gifted more than 24,580 books to 1,108 children and their families through its Read to Soar program.

The free program, available in nine Central Louisiana parishes, is designed to help prepare children from birth to 5 for school success by cultivating a love for reading long before they ever set foot in a classroom.

“The program started in 2018,” said Jamila Farris, Early Childhood Program Coordinator for The Orchard Foundation. “It’s a free eight-week program that meets the same day and time each week. And it’s designed for young children and their caregivers as a way for us to bring literacy into the home.”

Research shows that children who participate in high-quality early childhood programs are more likely to enter kindergarten ready to learn. And though Read to Soar was patterned after similar programs in other parts of the country, it was specifically designed by The Orchard Foundation for Central Louisiana.

“Many of the children who attend Read to Soar have not ever been in a classroom setting before,” said Danielle Marcotte, who has been a Read to Soar Literacy Specialist since 2020 and a Rapides Parish preschool teacher for 26 years. “We teach them how to hold a book, we teach them the difference between a picture and a word. We tell them about the different parts of a book and how to look at a book.”

The program also includes a snack each week, songs, dancing and crafts – which also helps children work on their fine motor skills. Children leave each session with five new books for their home library.

“We do a lot of singing and dancing, a lot of movement and following directions,” Marcotte said. “The caregivers get to have fun, too, and we’re teaching them that they can have fun without technology. There’s no technology involved during the class. I think that’s my favorite part.”

Parents are included in the learning, too.

“There’s a five-minute parent lesson each week,” Farris said. “That’s when I talk to the parents and go over tips and teachable moments they can use at home. We talk about how they can point out street signs while driving, or point out words or letters while they are shopping at the store. What I’ve found is that some parents are already doing these things, and I tell them to keep doing that.”

Specific topics covered during the eight-week program include:

  • Social and Emotional Development
  • Proper Book Handling
  • Meaningful Conversation
  • Building Vocabulary
  • Phonological Awareness
  • Print Awareness
  • Foundations of Reading
  • Emergent Writing

The hope is that through these activities and classes, children and caregivers will develop and strengthen a culture of reading in their homes and have the tools they need for school success once they begin kindergarten.

“We got involved in Read to Soar when my boys were 4 and 5 years old,” said De’Errika Scott of Jena. “I saw it advertised, and I’m big on education for my kids. My boys were already reading, but I wanted them to have some socialization skills because, at the time, they were staying at home with me.

“It was extremely beneficial for all of us. I told others how good it was and I told tons of people about it. I tell them, you will have absolutely no regrets. Your children will learn so many things that, as a parent, you may not even have thought about teaching them.”

Today, Scott’s son Issa is in the fourth grade and her son Aiden is in the fifth grade – and Scott believes Read to Soar set them firmly on a path for success.

“Issa is in the gifted program at school. He loves doing his best in school. His best means never getting in trouble, being involved in extracurricular activities and maintaining all A’s (preferably all 100 As!),” Scott said. “Aiden is the type of student who is quick to help his schoolmates – share his canteen money, talk about Jesus … he believes in being his best self at school and is serving as a 4-H officer this year.”

Books covered in the sessions include popular favorites like, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear,” “The Kissing Hand,” “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” and “Love You Forever.”

“‘Love You Forever’ is my favorite,” Scott said. “I still sing that song to my kids. I’ve passed along some of the books to other families because we had several copies, but that’s one of the ones I’ve held on to.”

Read to Soar classes are held in a variety of locations and on a variety of different schedules, depending on the parish and instructor.

“Sometimes the classes are on Saturday. Sometimes they are during the summer or after work,” Marcotte said. “We’ve even done some classes at Head Start Centers at pickup time, because that works really well for our parents.”

Read to Soar classes are limited to 15 families at a time, and registration is required in advance of the first session. At least one child must be 5 years old or younger and children must be accompanied by an adult.

“In the parents’ mind, this class is for the children,” Farris said. “But it is really for the parents, though we make sure the children have fun, too.” As the program celebrates its sixth birthday in 2024, Read to Soar participants will be treated to a birthday celebration that includes cupcakes, noisemakers, decorations and the book, “How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Birthday” – so children get an extra book to take home.

“I’m seeing children learn to love books, and they are able to build their own home library during the course of the program,” Marcotte said. “The parents realize the importance of communicating and reading with their children at an early age. I tell my parents, ‘You can still read to infants. Make it an important part of each day. Make it a routine.’

“Even though your child is an infant, or 1, or 2, or 3, Read to Soar is a program that is developmentally appropriate for all of those ages. No matter how young your child is, they can participate,” Marcotte said. “They will learn to have a love for reading.”

Read to Soar is part of The Rapides Foundation’s Education Initiative, which seeks to increase an individual’s level of educational attainment and achievement as the primary path to improved economic, social and health status. Following the success of Read to Soar, The Orchard Foundation began offering Math to Build On, an early math literacy program that also consists of workshops for young children and their guardians.

See photos from a 2024 workshop below.


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