The sun was shining, the birds were singing and a gaggle of children were happily reading, as the Learning Alliance took them on an adventure in search of literacy on the first day of the annual Moonshot Literacy Lane, a partnership with the School District of Indian River County, the Indian River County Main Library and the downtown Vero Beach business district, that will continue through April 14.
This third year of the event to support the Moonshot Moment Literacy Movement – with its goal of having 90 percent of children reading on grade-level by third grade – couldn’t have come at a better time. With an ever-increasing number of COVID-19-related closings, the 3/4-mile, outdoor literacy loop is an excellent opportunity to get children out of the house and keep their brains working.
“In some ways, the timing was perfect for this year’s Moonshot Literacy Lane,” said Marie O’Brien, TLA manager of digital media and outreach, “as it lends itself to be a safe activity respecting the need for social distancing at this time.”
She explained that there are 13 stops on the 3/4-mile walk through the Downtown Vero Beach Main Street community, beginning and ending at the IRC Main Library.
“We’re grateful to our local businesses for their Moonshot support of this fun learning experience,” said O’Brien.
After reading the first of the poster-sized (meaning no touching is necessary) pages of the book “Thank You, Omu,” by Oge Mora, budding bibliophiles make stops at businesses along 14th Avenue to read the next installments of the book, before returning to the library to read the final page and learn how the story ended.
Each site displays two pages of the book, which tells the story of a community that supports one another with the gift of sharing. At each stop, questions are also posted to help children improve their vocabulary, comprehension and critical thinking skills.
Deborah Dillon, retired Rosewood Elementary School principal, led a group of excited children and their families on the opening day of the literacy journey, which also featured Moonshot Reading Captains from a new program, who tagged along to observe and share storytelling techniques.
“Anytime that you have an opportunity to share books and provide opportunities for children to read in the community is a wonderful thing to do. It’s key for children to have access to books at home,” said Dillon, stressing that the years from birth to age 5 are when children begin to develop their language and vocabulary.
“The exposure to books at an early age is key to making them better readers, and eventually better citizens in our community that can contribute later in life,” she added.
The Moonshot Reading Captain program is the most recent innovative approach rolled out by the Learning Alliance to put books into the hands of children, while also encouraging family engagement. Age-appropriate books will be provided to this group of nearly 40 volunteers, so that whenever they encounter friends or neighbors, they can share their love of reading.
“Thirty-five years of educating students, working with parents and the community has afforded me the wisdom to recognize a pivotal moment in literacy through the Moonshot Reading Captain grassroots initiative,” said Margaret Ingram, who leads the group. “The idea of empowering trusted people in the neighborhood to serve as the go-to early-literacy support person for families will help alleviate some of the stress in the home.”
The program is based on the premise that if your friends and neighbors are doing it, it must be a worthwhile pursuit. Adding to that is the fact that people are more apt to heed advice from someone they know and trust. In the course of their interactions, the Moonshot Reading Captains also share information about valuable resources that people may not be aware of, such as the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative, Healthy Start Coalition and Treasure Coast Community Health.
“Parents are willing to help their children, but lack the resources to aid them in creating successful readers. Having books embedded in the community will ensure that the children will have appropriate grade-level reading books,” said Ingram. “I believe this program will bring back kitchen table conversations, whereby literacy will become the universal language. This model will serve as a new paradigm for early literacy in the community.”
Candice Broom said that as the mother of a 2-year-old, she was intrigued by the program.
Saying that her daughter, Jacobi, already enjoys reading, she added, “I can see it on her face. If I get a new book, she’s ready. She wants to turn the page and point out different things in the book she recognizes. I think it’s really important to start early.”
Broom said she is looking forward to having access to reading materials and guidelines on teaching children to read.
“I think it’s important to engage with your community, because someone can always go out and drop off books, but it doesn’t make it as personal,” Broom explained. “To engage with people, it’s a love that you can feel; that people care about you and your child’s well-being. When you engage with people, it makes them feel loved, and that’s very important for growth.”
“The Learning Alliance has been a wonderful addition to our community. I’ve been involved in it since its inception at Rosewood Elementary,” said Dillon, an educator for nearly 35 years. “Everything they have done has been to provide opportunities for reading and getting literacy out there in our community whatever way they can.”
She commented that the addition of this new program is one more way to get community leaders involved, sets a good example, and enforces the importance of providing opportunities for children, “because good readers make better leaders.”
The story posters will remain up along 14th Avenue until April 14. At just under 1-mile-long, the story walk is a great way for families to get out, enjoy the fresh air and read their way to a brighter future.
For information, or to download a map of the pages, visit moonshotmoment.org.