Madison, NY

Grade Level Reading Network

Tell Our Story”

Let’s save the best for last. NOT so good news first, then good and then even better news.

The GLR BIG THREE: Chronic Absenteeism, Summer Slide, and K-Readiness each present unique challenges. Culture, economics, demographics and geography all play a part in every Campaign community. And so it is in rural Madison County in the geographical heart of New York. Our 73,000 reside in 10 school districts spread across 1 small city, 15 towns and 10 villages spread out over 660 square miles. We exemplify the observation of the Rural School and Community Trust Policy’s Why Rural Matters 2011-12: “Rural education frustrates some who wish it would conform to its image of simplicity. Its geographical dispersion, its small and decentralized institutions, its isolation, and the cultural conservatism of many of its communities make rural education a conundrum to reformers and policy makers whose experiences and concerns are so often focused on urban education” (pg. 21). In other words…

ATTENDANCE. Our low-income schools (eight of ten districts in the county) have been cut to the bone and then been inundated with largely unfunded state mandates on Common Core and brand new teacher, administrator and school evaluations dependent upon student performance on exams. In order to accommodate these required changes, most districts have suggested that now is not the best time to introduce a new measure to attack “chronic absenteeism. ” But, GOOD NEWS—in August, the state mandated attention to our GLR priority. By this time next year, all districts will have programs in place and NY has selected Attendance Works to lead this effort.

SUMMER SLIDE: Though every public library has an active summer reading program, access is limited by transportation. They all have great programs, but targeting the K-3 low ability readers is problematic. But, GOOD NEWS—to begin addressing funding strategies, our Mid-York Library System initiated data collection on who exactly participates in the summer programs. This data initiative came directly from last year’s GLR Denver Conference. In particular, it was promoted by one of our local library “stars,” Beverly Choltco-Devlin. With this data, we can begin to analyze how to time and position our programs for maximum participation. Funders will be able to understand the need for transportation and we can easily measure the impact of their grants.

Before the budget cuts, our low-income schools had some summer programs. Transportation was always a limiting factor. With the cuts, it is crippled. You can offer either a summer program in your school or bus the kids to the program. But not both. Hmmm. Good thing we are used to “boot strapping.”

GOOD NEWS—the very small communities of Brookfield and Madison demonstrated “work-arounds.” Brookfield CSD (K-12 enrollment=290) went to a CAI program through Renaissance Learning, Inc. If the students cannot come to you, go to them via the Internet.

Madison CSD (K-12 enrollment = 430) worked the “old school” magic. For a town without a public library, they showed us how it’s done. The public school worked with Deirdre Purdy from the Oriskany Falls Rotary and Director Diana Wendell from the Madison-Oneida BOCES Center for Instructional Support & School Library Systems to find small grants. Laura Winchester, the Madison CSD Librarian who ran the program, reported that with a regular school year enrollment of 132 in K-3:

During the five Tuesday evenings of our program we were visited by:

72 different children….most from our target audience (grades K-3), but also both older and younger siblings

64 different parents and grandparents

And my favorite number:  38 different families!!!! 

With 25 of those families attending 3 or more sessions!

Our total attendance for the five summer evenings was 372.

(An average of 74 people per evening, consisting of 23 parents,

42 students, 4 Rotarians and 4 Madison faculty members)

During the summer more than 700 books were borrowed.

On the last evening, the Rotary graciously supplied three paperback books for each child to keep.”

Madison’s Laura Winchester has shown that it can be done. Working with the new data on summer attendance and Madison’s magic, the Literacy Coalition hopes to reproduce Madison’s success in several other districts next summer.

K-READINESS is our BETTER NEWS. All good, all the time!

Our county’s early childhood literacy has received a huge shot in the arm from our Literacy Coalition’s pursuit of the Grade Level Reading objectives. In 18 months, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has helped us go from 0-100%. Our formulation of K-Readiness combines a pre-school piece with an adult education piece. These two efforts are complementary pieces in building a culture of family literacy.

An important scaffolding piece for early childhood literacy is adult literacy. If mom or dad struggles with “The Little Engine That Could,” we will be there to help those that want it. The literacy coalition’s adult education effort, Madison County Reads Ahead (MCRA), provides free, one-on-one tutoring to adults. We work around the client’s schedule and needs. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library spurred the Literacy Coalition to expand its adult education work. In outlying areas with no public transportation, if the clients cannot get to MCRA sites, MCRA is creating sites nearer to them. MCRA is partnering with local food pantries and used clothing centers. Now when clients come for food and clothing they can stay for their ABE/ESL/GED work and have their children cared for by volunteers providing literacy activities.

This summer the literacy coalition secured funding to provide Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library's high quality, age appropriate books, to every birth to five child in the county, every month. To celebrate this, our major announcement and “kickoff” will take place on Oct. 22 at our fall coalition conference at Colgate University’s Hall of Presidents. Our guest speaker will be Patrick Corvington, Senior Fellow for the Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

With this foundational “layer” of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in all communities, the early childhood caregivers and educators have been inspired to begin meeting and sharing best practice tips on maximizing the impact of these good books for the children and their families as well as addressing school readiness issues. It is exciting to see the ramifications of this program.

Yet another Imagination Library benefit is being part of a precedent setting research project. Our neighboring Literacy Coalition in Onondaga County enabled the first publication in an academic journal of empirical research about the impact of the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Our rural county will be part of a similar study by LeMoyne College Professors Monica Sylivia, Sunita Singh and Frank Ridzi. They are conducting detailed research on the impact of the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library on family reading behavior. Every public library will be their community’s lead for this research.

The public libraries all volunteered to be the “home” and do the publicity and registration for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The area covered is each library’s school district—in order to build local ownership for sustainability. No tax monies from the library or school are used. Thus, we hope to not only get books to kids, but to give low literacy parents a reason to pursue adult ed. and, even more importantly, to build communities joined around literacy.

The take away is this: You likely don’t have the resources others have. Yet if you sit down and study on it, like most challenges in rural America, some common sense, creativity and collaboration—along with duct tape, baling twine and WD-40—will get you there. Grab those bootstraps. We can do this.

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  • Hi Jay,

    Good to hear from you! and feel free to share more! Yes, I did bump into Carolyn Jons of Ames - earlier this month at a gathering of Iowa GLR communities here in Des Moines (about a 35 minute drive from Ames)

    Cheers, Betsy!

  • Betsy, Just got back this page. I'll let you know more about these programs in a bit. Managing the implementation of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library across our county has sucked vital juices from large parts of my brain. Huge public presentation on this expansion tomorrow.

    I like your job title. The GLR group is moving purposefully towards some wonderful outcomes.

    Ever run into Carolyn Jons up in Ames in Story County? At the 2012 Denver conference, I was might impressed with the Iowa communities' achievements.

  • Terrific, well-written presentation of your work - really enjoyed your candid good news/not-so-good news/can do/duct tape-baling twine-and-WD-40 approach  (Or as my husband, a rural Kansas native, would say "Keep your head down and keep plowing into the wind!)

    I'm particularly interested to learn more about how you overcame the summer slide/transportation issue (re: the very small communities of Brookfield and Madison demonstrated “work-arounds.” Brookfield CSD (K-12 enrollment=290) went to a CAI program through Renaissance Learning, Inc. If the students cannot come to you, go to them via the Internet and re: Madison CSD (K-12 enrollment = 430) worked the “old school” magic.

    Also interested in your adult literacy efforts and the link between this and early childhood literacy, as well as the Imagination Library work/research!

    Thanks for sharing!!

    - Betsy Rubiner, GLR Network's new community manager (and a former resident of rural upstate NY...not far from Madison in Ithaca!)

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