Reading program returns to SiCM in Schenectady after pandemic hiatus – The Daily Gazette

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SCHENECTADY — When the 50 free children’s books available weekly from Schenectady Community Ministries’ Albany Street Pantry disappeared two years ago, young readers wondered.

“We had kids coming up to us and asking where the books were,” said SiCM executive director Reverend Amaury. Tañon-Santos said Wednesday.

The free and culturally diverse books, which are purchased new, were made available through the Schenectady Takes Action for Reading Success – or STARS – program, created by the Schenectady County Public Library to encourage reading among children in the city up to 8 years. economically disadvantaged areas.

Since its launch in 2018, the program – funded by grants and private donations – has provided more than 7,800 books to young readers through two distribution points: the SiCM Food Pantry and County Women’s, Infants and Children’s Services. from Schenectady along Clinton Street.

Unlike the library, the books made available do not need to be returned.

“It’s all about early literacy, and an important part of literacy is access. It’s about making it easier for families to access,” said Kaela Wallman, the library’s youth services coordinator who oversees the STARS program.

But the program was put on hold in 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which shuttered the library system for months and required materials to be quarantined or sanitized upon their return when the library reopened.

The program resumed last year, but only at the WIC program.

After months of anticipation, kids no longer need to wonder where the books went. The program returned to SiCM on Wednesday with a variety of books featuring various characters written in English and Spanish, marking the 100th book release since the program launched.

“We don’t just distribute books to simply encourage literacy,” Tañon-Santos mentioned. “We also encourage children to see themselves in literature.”

SiCM chief operating officer Jo-Anne Rafalik said the STARS program is a natural fit for the community center, which focuses on addressing food insecurity issues across the county and runs a program meal plan that provided 57,000 meals to youth in the county. Last year.

The summer meal program has operated on a delivery-only basis for the past two years due to the pandemic, and SiCM has worked with other interfaith organizations to obtain culturally diverse books written in multiple languages ​​in the absence of the STARS program. The books were distributed in brown bags with the meals.

But the delivery service has ended and SiCM is working to establish meal sites for this summer’s meal program and hopes to expand the reading program to help reduce learning loss and provide students with a safe space to learn. .

Previously, the volunteers supervising the meal program took the time to read to the children or listen to the children read to them. Some even held reading selections as they got to know the kids, Rafalik said.

“They really appreciate that one-on-one attention they get from reading to an adult,” she said. “When you get that one-on-one attention, that’s really what they want. It’s really the perfect way to maintain their reading skills.

Wallman, meanwhile, said she hopes to expand the STARS program in future years. The program costs approximately $8,500 to operate each location annually. Each book costs an average of $3.50 and supplies are replenished weekly, she said.

In addition, each book comes with a reading guide that provides advice for children and parents, which Wildwood School students help to attach to each book.

Wallman noted that funding for the STARS program is not yet sustainable and relies on a number of grants and private donations, which, coupled with the pandemic, has made it difficult for the program to grow.

The hope is to establish a committee that will create ideas on how to fund the program in the future.

“Ultimately, it’s about empowering parents as their child’s first educators,” Wallman said.

For more information about the STARS program or to donate, visit: schenectadystars.org.

Contact journalist Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.

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