By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Turning letters into sounds and sounds into words is one secret to boosting brainpower. Now the community can be directly involved in stimulating young minds.
The psychology department of the Indian River County School District is asking the community to participate throughout December in a book drive "Books for Brains," specifically targeting children from infant to 4 years old.
Christina Hayes, lead school psychologist, said the department has been collecting books for the drive since early November and is well on its way to the goal of providing 800 new or gently used books.
The drive goes hand-in- hand with Superintendent Fran Adams' challenge to the district to get up to 90 percent of third-grade students reading at grade level by 2018, Ms. Hayes said.
Training and teaching a child to read and to love reading early on is one way to help children get a good start, not only in school, but in life.
Literacy has been directly linked to positive academic outcomes, as well as life prosperity, she said.
National Assessment of Adult Literacy statistics show that two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail on welfare.
Eighty-five percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, statistics show.
While not all students will experience such extreme outcomes, helping students be the best they can be starts early, department officials said.
The psychology department has several functions, including providing academic and behavior consultation, short-term, academically relevant mental health interventions and other intervention specialties. The department seeks to find ways to support the academic milestones of students and the book drive is just one way they can do this, Ms. Hayes said.
"We feel this is one way we can help promote positive academic outcomes in students all across our district," she said.
The donated books will be delivered to children of families participating in READY! for Kindergarten, a family based, early learning program sponsored by the area nonprofit, The Learning Alliance.
The Learning Alliance focuses on helping families improve children's reading abilities in a variety of ways, including giving free eye exams and glasses to students in need, tutoring students and training teachers in different methods of teaching students to read.
The books will also be delivered to students enrolled in the district's voluntary pre-kindergarten and pre-kindergarten exceptional student education programs, Ms. Hayes said.
Approximately 270 students will be given at least three books each should the drive goal be met by the end of December.
Books that would make appropriate donations include those specifically written for children 4 and younger. These books often have colorful pictures, rich vocabulary words, rhyming words and have themes that parents can talk about with their children
Some popular authors for that age group are Eric Carle, Dr. Seuss and Sandra Boynton, Ms. Hayes said.
For more information, contact Mary Kramek, school psychologist, at (772) 564-6078.