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Bringing books to Richmond kindergartens

on October 7, 2010

About 30 kindergartners wiggle into place at Stege Elementary’s small library, sitting quietly on the floor in front of three new bookshelves tied with red ribbons. It doesn’t stay quiet for long.

Three Billy Goats Gruff!” shouts a five-year-old boy in the front row.

“The Wild Things!” pleads another.

Titles like these—and many more—will soon be available to all 4,200 kindergartners in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, thanks to a grant funding brand new kindergarten libraries. On Tuesday morning, school officials and donors held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Stege to unveil this new Richmond-wide program.

The program is a collaboration of several organizations efforts. The Chamberlin Family Foundation, based in Pleasanton, gave a grant of more than $272,000 to this plan. The East Bay Community Foundation helped connect the foundation with the school district and handles the funds. Literacy specialists at Bring Me a Book, a Mountain View nonprofit, will set up the libraries in the schools and facilitate the adult training workshops. By the end of the year, 8,000 new books will be placed in 70 kindergarten classrooms.

“Study after study proves that children who have early exposure to reading books, and who are read aloud to on a daily basis, do better in school,” said Terri Clark, Bring Me a Book executive director, in a press release.

The program will place a bookcase with 30 new hardcover, bilingual books in 70 kindergarten classrooms.

Step one is making books available to the kids at a young age. “The other half of the program is training parents to read to their kids, and for busy parents to realize that taking time to read is just as important as, say, doing laundry,” said Susan Chamberlin, of the Chamberlin Family Foundation.

Literacy training workshops will teach 5,230 parents and caregivers about the impact reading aloud can have on a child’s academic success. The program has funding for three years and will put on two workshops at each Richmond elementary school.

“Test scores in reading have been low, and in three years, we’ll see if we’ve made a difference,” said Chamberlin. “Richmond schools lack resources and attention. Putting these resources at the beginning of kids’ education is crucial.”

Mayor McLaughlin, who later that day held a press conference to answer charges from the police and firefighting unions about her financial and health issues, also made a brief appearance. She spoke directly to the kindergartners, telling them that books can have a positive effect on their lives. She asked how many of the kids thought they were special. When all of them raised their hands, she praised them.

After the officials finished their speeches and cut the ribbons on the new bookcases, Susan Chamberlin stood before the kindergartners. “Thank you all for being so patient,” she said. “Without further ado, let’s read.”

One of the kids handed her Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

Some 4,200 children and 5230 parents and caregivers will by impacted by the literacy program in Richmond kindergartens.

The room got loud again.

Principal Eddie Smith stepped up and said in a louder voice, “When I say peace, you say quiet.”

“Peace,” she said.

“Quiet!” echoed the five-year-olds.

Then the kindergartners formed little circles around the adults holding new books and settled in for story time.

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