For the past month and a half, stacks of early childhood books have been piling up in Principal Joe Wacker's Scenic Heights Elementary School office. They include board books, paperbacks, counting books, books to teach the alphabet, books in various languages and books of all shapes and sizes.
"It's unbelievable—and getting a little crowded in here—but I'm really pleased at the same time. Our students did this," said Principal Wacker.
What the students did—in a month's time—was to collect more than 1,500 early childhood books that were new or gently used. The collection is for the REACH OUT AND READ MN program, a national and state initiative embraced and promoted by the Excelsior Rotary Club.
The books will be distributed to partner Health Clinics throughout Minnesota for pediatricians and doctors to give to young children and their parents – two per clinic visit. The gifts come with doctor advice about the critical importance of talking, singing, reading to and with, playing and positive engagement to stimulate optimum brain development.
"The REACH OUT AND READ program is just amazing. We know that brain development in young children is just as important as physical health. Children who begin school knowing how to read or knowing the basic building blocks of learning are much better equipped to be successful in school and later in life than those who are not ready to learn when they start school," said Dr. Don Draayer, member of the Excelsior Rotary Club, former Superintendent of Minnetonka Schools and honored National Superintendent of the Year.
Another Excelsior Rotary Club goal is to encourage other Rotary Clubs to raise and contribute dollars for REACH OUT AND READ MN to purchase age, language and culturally-appropriate books for clinics in our increasingly diverse Minnesota communities.
Dr. Draayer and his wife Mary Anne, a former kindergarten and nursery school teacher, gave a $10,000 matching grant to get the initiative off the ground locally. Rotary Club and private donations in the Western Suburbs currently total $40,000, which—at a price of $2.50 per book—will purchase 16,000 specialized books. One new, specialized book and two recycled books per Health Clinic visit will start and grow a child's home library.
To learn more about Reach Out and Read, visit: http://www.reachoutandread.org/