Florence businesses sign on with reading program

Published in The Morning News March 1, 2015
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FLORENCE, S.C. – Some businesses in Florence are helping parents help their children learn to read through a new program sponsored by Florence School District One. The Start 2 Read program puts educators in businesses and books in the hands of parents.

Dr. Floyd Creech, director of school readiness for the school district, said part of the goal is to help parents who may have limited time by reaching them at their workplace.  "We thought this would be a good place to approach them," Creech said. "Then the parents would be able to get a book, learn about it and read it to their child at home."

Studies show that the earlier parents start reading to their children, the better prepared they will be when entering school. The Start 2 Read program is geared toward children from birth to age 3. It provides age-appropriate books free to parents to read to their children.

Experienced early childhood educators ensure that parents get their questions answered and are on the right track. After 30 years of teaching in the Darlington County School District, Glenda Cottingham retired but wasn't quite ready to completely give up teaching. She said that in many ways she feels like she's having an even bigger effect with children by working with parents in the Start 2 Read program.

"It's exciting to know that reading is actually getting into the homes," Cottingham said. "Parents say their children are excited to read, and the parents can't wait to read to their children. You can't do anything in this world without reading. Children want to read but if you don't read to them, they're not going to care."

Assurant was one of the first companies to sign on with the program late last year. Early childhood educators pay a visit two days a month to meet with parents and give them tips on how to read to their child.

Deb Davis, Assurant site manager and vice president, said the program doesn't just help children.  "Our associates see we're interested in helping them with their children and it helps us be more engaged with them," she said. "Twenty years from now these kids could be applying to work at Assurant. We're not saying they aren't good parents. We feel everybody could learn to better use the resources available to help children."  

Assurant employee Wendy Stang, a mother of a 3-year-old boy, said that since participating in the program her son really loves to read.  "When the educators explain to us what we can do to help, it really helps us help them learn," Stang said. "It means a lot and shows they (Assurant) care about your family; that's not happened at other jobs I've had."

PGBA is another participating company, letting program representatives meet with employees up to three times per month. PGBA human resource generalist Rozlyn Ford said participating in the Start 2 Read program is unprecedented with the PGBA.
"On an educational level we've never had anything like this before," Ford said. "We do all kinds of things in the community but this is the first hands-on program geared to children. Overall, I think it helps build morale and employees' spirit."

PGBA employee Shatannah Johnson, a mother of a 4-year-old son, said having the books readily accessible at home helps when there may not be time to go out and get them on her own.
"I love it," she said. "It's so much easier because it's at my disposal. I come home with them and my son encourages me to read to him. Anytime you have a child that would rather read instead of play video games, it's a success."

Florence One provided $30,000 in funding for the program, with grants from The School Foundation and donations from other businesses in the area. So far, there have been more than 5,000 books distributed this year. Creech said he expects about 10,000 books to be distributed every year, once the program is fully operational.

Foundation executive director Debbie Hyler said supporting Start 2 Read fits right in with its goal for a well-educated community. The School Foundation supports schools and educational programs in Florence One through grants.
"We felt if children have a better chance at success when they come to kindergarten, through this program, why wouldn't we want to support it?" Hyler said. "It's important to remember, this is a very inexpensive way to reach parents. Think how expensive it could be down the road if a child is not where they need to be and needs tutoring, specialists or other programs to catch them up."

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