A Fletcher Elementary School literacy project has helped the town’s youngest residents spread their wings with books and reading this school year. The school’s Brancher Literacy Project distributed nearly 500 high-quality children’s books to Fletcher resident three and four-year-olds, most of whom do not yet attend the school.

The name of the program is significant. A brancher is a baby falcon who has not yet learned to fly and hops from branch to branch in a tree. Fletcher School’s mascot is the falcon. The Brancher Literacy Initiative name was created for the town’s emergent readers who are just learning about print but may not be reading yet themselves.

In August, 2018, the school received a $3,000 federal grant to fund the project, including books and the necessary supplies to assemble and mail the monthly packages. In each mailing, participants received between six and twelve books to share at home and keep.

“Axel has absolutely adored the Brancher Project, as have I,” parent Liz Tower said. “When the package comes and I tell him he has new books, he can’t wait to see what they are. He wants me to read all of them to him immediately, and then he tells me in what order he likes them. He also loves that he’s getting mail addressed to him. He feels so important.”

The school’s goals for the project included supporting children’s love of stories and reading, building increased language and vocabulary and encouraging families to spend time together with quality children’s literature.

“All four of my kids get excited when the new books come home every month,” parent Deedra Austin said. “Rosa takes the envelope and hugs it to her chest before giving it to me to open. She is even trying to read and say what we have said. She didn’t try to talk a lot before getting the books, and I have also noticed that her older siblings are getting more fluent in their reading out loud. There have been many improvements for all of them since the start of this project.”

“The research is clear about early language and literacy,” Instructional Coach Denette Locke said. “The greatest amount of brain growth occurs between birth and age five. In fact, the brain triples during the first year of life and is almost fully formed by age five. Yet, most of our resources support children beginning in kindergarten. Projects like this bridge that gap. The earlier children begin to hear and use language, and enjoy stories, the more success they will have later on.”

“These books have given my children a way to interact with each other in a positive way,” Austin said. “In a way that doesn’t involve a TV or Kindle screen. This project gives quality entertainment that can easily be shared or taken on an outing with ease. Rosa is always grabbing a book to look at, or to have someone read to her. Her brothers and sisters love reading to her.”

“Experts are in nearly complete agreement that babies and young children should routinely experience shared books during the first weeks and months of life,” Locke said. “It builds motivation, curiosity and memory, in addition to a whole host of reading and language skills.”

The school is currently exploring funding to continue the project in the fall.

Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon

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