The United Way of Pickens County is partnering with local elementary schools to promote literacy and learning skills through their Preschool Pages program.
The goal of the program is to support the development of early literacy skills in preschool-aged children across the community. Right now, Preschool Pages sessions take place at 11 elementary schools in Pickens County. The sessions are free to caregivers with preschool-aged children. The sessions take place at different times depending on the location, and all sessions include story time with related learning activities and a free book for the child to take home to help build their at-home libraries.
“If they come all the time, they could start kindergarten with sixty books that have been donated," said Angela Spearman, reading coach and Preschool Pages coordinator at McKissick Academy in Easley.
Spearman came to the United Way of Pickens County about five years ago after she saw a need for literacy development in young children.
“Our KRA scores, which is kindergarten readiness, were showing us that about 75% percent of the students weren’t ready for kindergarten," said Spearman.
Now, through the partnership with United Way of Pickens County and Women United, the children they serve are exposed to the school setting at an earlier age while building new skills they need to get them ready for kindergarten.
“When you talk to your kids, you kind of use the same patterns, the same words, the same kind of conversation," said Spearman. "Where books might expose [them] to new vocabulary.”
Spearman says they don't focus as much on learning letters and numbers at the Preschool Pages sessions. She says those things are learned once a child begins school. But, she says, getting children familiar with books and learning, in general, is crucial.
“Having them come here, learn to turn the pages of the book, it’s a skill in and of itself to like, grab those pages and turn," said Spearman.
And according to Jennifer Shurley of the United Way of Pickens County, the earlier children begin learning those skills, the better.
“The first three years of life are crucial for education," said Shurley. "80% of brain development is happening during those first three years.”
Shurley says United Way is dedicated to promoting literacy at all age levels, including those under the age of five.
“Women United is focused on the preschool years, and United Way is focused on the elementary years," she said. "And together, we are hoping to develop even better readers who are children who have more success in high school and graduation and have successful futures.”
Shurley also says the program is just as much for the caregivers as it is for the children.
"The parents can meet new friends who are also raising children the same age and develop a support system with each other. So, it’s just a community opportunity for anyone," said said.
Johanna Clark is the mother of a soon-to-be 2-year-old who attends the program.
“We love just the interaction with all the other kids and families and just being in the school," said Clark.
She says her son especially loves books.
"We take them home and read them multiple times a day. So, he loves everything about the books," said Clark.
The books used in the Preschool Pages program are all donated.
"We rely on those donations in order to provide the books to take home and build their home libraries and experience those stories again and again," said Shurley.
She says seeing the smiles on the children's faces when it's time for story time is a reminder of the importance of the program and the skills it develops.
“To see them interacting together with books and activities that are building early literacy skills and early learning skills and to see the joy on their faces when they're interacting with those books," she said. "It's just fantastic.”