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The Butts County School System has been awarded a $3,917,325 L4GA (Literacy for Learning, Living and Leading in Georgia) grant to support literacy in the community for the next five years. Plans for the grant, which equals $783,465 a year for five years, include a book a month for children ages birth to 5 years, providing every teacher with a classroom library, and developing a library on wheels — the BCSS Express — to take books and technology out into the county.

Superintendent Dr. Todd Simpson and Dr. Fran Dundore, director of Professional Learning and Assessment, made a presentation about the literacy program to the Board of Education at a called work session prior to their meeting on Oct. 6.

Simpson told the BOE about a year ago the first meeting of the Butts County Literacy Task Force was convened, with 70-80 community members joining system staff to support literacy in the community.

“We began establishing relationships with our community partners and pursuing becoming a ‘Get Georgia Reading Community,’” Simpson said. “It is demonstrating as a community and school system that we have the capacity to work together to do things that support literacy in terms of student achievement and quality of life, and developing a strong literacy plan within the schools. Within about two months, we became a ‘Get Georgia Reading Community.”

Simpson said during the process they learned about a new round of L4GA grants from the Georgia Department of Education, and decided to go after the grant.

“We knew it would be a very competitive process,” he said. “We thought we would find out in March, but because of the pandemic, it ended up being late May before we found out the children of Butts County were awarded a grant of $3,917,325 over the next five years. We’ve spent the last couple of months being trained, and having our budgets and initiatives approved, to get ourselves ready to implement the program, and to be able to tell the community what we are going to do differently now that we’ve got the money.”

Dundore outlined the plans the school system has for implementing the program, which include taking the presentation “on the road” as they begin to ramp up the initiative.

Dundore said part of the funding will focus on a birth to 5 years of age initiative, with every child in Butts County from birth to 5 years old having an age-appropriate book delivered to their house every month for five years, working in conjunction with the Ferst Foundation.

“A one year can play with a book, turn pages, start to make connections from the pictures to the words,” Dundore said. “We figure there are around 1,200 children in Butts County who are not yet school age, who can be the recipients of one book per month until they’re 5 years old.

“If you think about a toddler, their early language development has them learning to say ‘Mama,’ ‘Dada,’ and make sounds. You have them sitting in your lap and you have that book that has just been delivered with a picture of a rabbit or a cow or a pig, and you connect that picture to a word, that’s how language develops. The earlier you get that started, the better they will do in school.”

Dundore said they will also be able to provide every teacher in Butts County with a classroom library, based on what they teach, for their students to use, along with access to professional learning to support literacy instruction.

Dundore said a dream that they have had will be brought to life through the grant by outfitting a school bus to become the BCSS Express, a library on wheels.

“I remember as a child a bookmobile that went from neighborhood to neighborhood,” recalled Dundore. “You would check out a book, and two weeks later the Bookmobile would return and you could check the book back in and check out another book.

“We are currently in the process of outfitting the BCSS Express with technology, bookshelves and books, and take the bus out to locations in the county. We plan to have an awning and rollout mat where we can do lessons and demonstrations, or just read a book.”

Dr. Simpson said the literacy initiative will not solve all problems, but it is a giant step in the right direction.

“We’re excited because we believe this will make a statement to our community and to those who are passing through our community that literacy is important to us,” he said. That we are a literacy-focused community. It is something that can bring the community together.”

Students will be tracked for progress throughout their ages. For birth through 5, the measures will be letter recognition, rhyme recognition, and matching pictures with words. For elementary school students (K-3), it will be first sound fluency, letter naming and recognition, comprehension, and lexile level (the numeric representation of an individual’s reading ability). For secondary students (6-11), the measures will be reading ability and text complexity.

Simpson said there are several ways for the community to get involved in the initiative. One way is by volunteering to read to students in the elementary schools. Another way is to put a “We Are A Get Georgia Reading Community” sign in their yard. Signs are available at the school system office.

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