Friday's Kiwanis Literacy Event only first of four this school year

MORRIS – Area Kiwanis members ditched their morning routines and donned their reading glasses Friday to read books to local elementary students.

“We want kids to understand the importance of literacy, so having someone from the business world come and read to them is really important,” Nettle Creek Superintendent Don McKinney said. “It shows them that everybody reads.”

Kindergarten, first- and second-grade classrooms at White Oak, Saratoga, Nettle Creek and Immaculate Conception schools were a part of the fouth-annual Kiwanis Literacy Event. For the event, Kiwanis volunteers read and gave a copy of a book to each of the 27 participating classrooms.

Friday’s literacy event was the first of four scheduled for this school year. Typically, Kiwanis organizes one literacy event a year. But this year, the Morris Kiwanis Club has added more dates thanks to a fundraiser at the 2013 Grundy County Corn Festival that raised $9,000 for the program.

Teri Shaw, superintendent of District 54 schools and Kiwanis member, said with the added funds, the group hopes to send at least one book home with every student at all four elementary schools during the upcoming summer.

“For sure kindergarten and first grade will get books,” Shaw said. “We’re working with the budget to secure funding for all students.”

A 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy from the Institute for Education Sciences found that in Grundy County, roughly 7 percent of the 2003 population, which was 30,654, were lacking basic prose or literacy skills.

This number is below the state of Illinois’, which came in at 13 percent in the same survey.

Kiwanis’s program aims to fight illiteracy by getting children excited about reading.

The program began four years ago at the suggestion of Kiwanis member and former curriculum coordinator for Morris Elementary, Saratoga Elementary and District 101, Kathy Wilkey.

“The mission of Kiwanis is serving the children of the world,” Shaw said. “This event is definitely aligned with that mission.”

Shaw, with help from District 54 librarian Marni Garcia, personally chooses the books for each literacy event. At Friday’s event, volunteers read John Rocco’s book, “Blackout.” The book was awarded a Caldecott Honor and tells the story of several families who unglue from their TV sets and phones to come together during a blackout.

“It’s a great family story. Everyone is so busy, busy, busy, and for once, we stop,” Shaw said.

Upcoming literacy events are scheduled on Fridays, every nine weeks. The next event is set for Dec. 20, the last Friday before winter break.

Volunteers will be reading a book titled, “Snowmen at Work.”

“The kids love it. They love being read to,” Shaw said. “At the end, they are saying, ‘Read it again.’ ”