Santa Rosa County StoryBook Treasures Literacy Program Expands

Young students from Santa Rosa County will soon participate in the the district’s newest effort to improve literacy and create a love for reading.

The district is expanding its partnership with the StoryBook Treasures organization so that all children in kindergarten through grade three receive a book, tote bag, and t-shirt to keep for themselves.

The full program typically includes a multi-day lesson plan for five books throughout the school year. Each of these books also includes a tangible “treasure” to help students connect with the stories. A bookmark with reading comprehension questions is sent home with the book to add parents to the reading process.

The district introduced the program at WH Rhodes Elementary School in Milton several years ago, but now all students in kindergarten through third grade will participate in a partial version of the program, which includes only the book, bag and the shirt.

Superintendent Karen Barber said around 9,000 children will receive the gifts this week, and Barber added that she wanted every child in the target age range to be able to take part in the full version of the program – which would include the addition of the ‘treasure’ and lesson plan – starting next school year.

“So hopefully we’ll start something that will continue over the years to help families build this home library of quality literature,” Barber said.

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Denise Corbo, who lives in Virginia, started StoryBook Treasures in 2014 and has since expanded to include schools in eight states.

“The more children who have books at home and the more families are engaged in reading with their children, the more successful they will be in reading and learning to read,” Corbo said.

Milton native Lee Ann Canada was teaching in Virginia while Corbo was beginning to pilot the program, and when Canada eventually returned to Santa Rosa County to teach Rhodes Elementary School, she helped bring the program here.

“It’s done to build libraries and to develop a love of reading…in children who don’t have that exposure,” Canada said. “So in Santa Rosa County, we have so many Title I schools, and so many families and children who don’t have access to books or don’t have a library in their homes.”

The Santa Rosa County School District is expanding its partnership with the StoryBook Treasures organization to allow more families to participate in the youth literacy program.  Children from kindergarten to grade three will receive a free book, tote bag and t-shirt to foster a love of reading.

Title I is a federal program that provides financial assistance through the states to local school districts and schools with large numbers of children from low-income families.

Canada mentioned books like “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” and “I Can Read With My Eyes Closed” as examples of books she has worked with in the past.

“Because (kids) can read it, they’re so excited. And even though they’re not good readers, they’ve been reading it all week,” Canada said. “And they can share about the book, and it really opens them up to the importance of reading and how it’s going to affect them in the future.”

According to Corbo and Barber, an important aspect of the program is to include parents in the education process.

“Regardless of socioeconomic status, we want to make sure parents feel confident to be that teacher at home. And so, we’re not just creating kids who love literacy and who love books and reading,” Barber said. “But hopefully we foster that same love of reading with that parent. And we build trust in that parent, to be that teacher at home.”

High school students wrap items for StoryBook Treasures.

Corbo added that there is a generational element to allowing children to start creating personal libraries at a young age, which will help them promote reading for their future families.

“And if we can put these books in their hearts and make them so special, they’ll want to share them with their own kids,” Corbo said. “So that’s another way of trying to fight this illiteracy.”

Corbo still runs the organization from his home in Virginia. She said the coordinated packing events with nearby schools allow her to ensure the process goes smoothly. On Monday and Tuesday, volunteers will wrap gifts at Rhodes Elementary before they are sent to county schools.

“This year we’re still getting about 70,000 books out of our house. We still don’t have a big warehouse or anything like that,” Corbo said.

Barber said she doesn’t yet know if the district will get the funding to adopt the full StoryBook Treasures program for the entire district next year, but said using ways to improve literacy would be always plan in the future.

“So somehow continuing to be able to continue the program and build that home library and work with families will definitely be a priority,” Barber said.

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