Educators, Policy Makers Discuss Literacy Issues in Garden City

(Courtesy of the Kansas Reading Roadmap)

GARDEN CITY, Kan. — Rural Early Literacy Day on April 24 brought together representatives from a variety of organizations to highlight the successes and discuss the obstacles faced in improving literacy among children in Garden City.

The Kansas Health Foundation, the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce, Tyson Foods, Inc., Garden City Public Schools, and the Kansas Reading Roadmap (KRR) celebrated the efforts of various education, business and community organizations to improve literacy outcomes. Participants visited the Finney County Public Library, the Russell Child Development Center, and Buffalo Jones Elementary School.

At the library, the group observed the Wee Learners program and how it supports early literacy with children and families. Participants discussed how libraries are powerful community-based partners that support early literacy in rural communities.

Wee Learners, started 16 years ago by Madella Williams to provide literacy programming for children from birth to three years of age, has served more than 60,000 children in the Garden City area.

“There seemed to be programs for children three and up, so we wanted something for those under three, because we know it’s so important to start teaching literacy from the very beginning,” Williams said. “We want to encourage families to foster literacy in their homes. The program is a chance for parents to connect and to share with each other about parenting.”

At the Russell Child Development Center, the group learned how through the Early Childhood Block Grant administered by the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund, the center supports community-based early childhood programs such as Learn & Play, as well as Healthy Steps, a home visitation program, across 19 western Kansas counties.

“In our work at Russell Child Development Center, we find that early literacy is part of every interaction,” said Deanna Berry, executive director of the center. “We work to give families the knowledge and tools they need to provide a language-rich environment in the home.”

The Buffalo Jones Elementary School event highlighted the importance of public schools and local employers building public/private partnerships.

“Our workforce depends on skilled, talented and educated individuals to fill jobs that make our businesses and community successful,” Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce Vice-President Janene Radke told the gathering at the school. “Research has shown that early literacy impacts development of those essential skills needed to be successful in the workforce. Skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication, decision making, motivation and collaboration are important to keep our businesses thriving.”

The meeting at Buffalo Jones Elementary showcased the relationship between Tyson Foods, Inc. and Garden City Public Schools to support the educational and social/emotional needs of families in the community. The KRR Literacy Integrated Family Engagement (LIFE) program’s partnership with Tyson was highlighted.

A video celebrating the partnerships making a difference in Garden City can be seen at