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Elijah Davidson, a first-grade student at Hopkins Elementary School, and his mother, Christina Devlin, far right, got to meet Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear this week at The Center for Rural Development in Somerset. Elijah read from the children’s book, “Ratty-Tatty,” a story about a rat who was too clever for anyone to catch, in a book-reading demonstration.

Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear met this week in Somerset with educators and parents from seven Southern and Eastern Kentucky counties to discuss ongoing efforts to improve reading skills in young children.

Mrs. Beshear, a strong advocate for education and former high school teacher, attended a book-reading demonstration by a first-grade participant in the Reading Recovery program, followed by a roundtable discussion on how the reading program is changing the lives of struggling young readers across the region.

The event, hosted at The Center for Rural Development by Forward in the Fifth in partnership with the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, was held Thursday, March 8, as part of a series of special statewide activities planned in observance of the second annual Kentucky Literacy Celebration Week.

“Our Commonwealth has made great strides in recent years, being the only state to show significant statistical improvement among fourth- and eighth-grade readers in both the 2007 and 2009 National Assessment for Education,” Mrs. Beshear said. “However, we still have a long way to go to increase literacy at all levels and must work on both state and local levels to promote literacy not only as an education tool, but to stay competitive in the 21st Century.”

During the program, educators and parents from Pulaski, Perry, Floyd, Harlan, Knott, Wolfe, and Knox counties shared with the First Lady some of their success stories and personal experiences in helping struggling first-grade students improve their reading skills with Reading Recovery. The program is a school-based, short-term intervention designed for 5-6 year olds who have difficulty with reading and writing.

“Reading Recovery is a highly effective program providing one-on-one reading intervention for first-grade students. We have an opportunity to provide this program at Hopkins Elementary School, thanks to the Read to Achieve Grant.”

Gina Wilson, a Reading Recovery teacher
Hopkins Elementary School

Many of the participants talked about the social and academic changes they have seen in their students as a result of the program. Elijah Davidson, a first-grade student at Hopkins Elementary School, proved that point by demonstrating his reading skills for the entire group.

Davidson, who was accompanied by his mother and his Reading Recovery teacher, read from the children’s book, “Ratty-Tatty,” a story about a rat who was too clever for anyone to catch.

“I cannot say enough good things about this program,” said Elijah’s mother, Christina Devlin. “Elijah has improved so much since he started working with Mrs. Wilson in the Reading Recovery program. It is a truly amazing program.”

Susan Lacy of Wolf County agrees.

“It is very difficult to be successful in life if you are a non-reader,” said Lacy. “Reading is a basic life skill that Reading Recovery can teach to struggling readers.”

The program at The Center was in continuation with Mrs. Beshear’s ongoing work with Forward in the Fifth to help advance education in the region and throughout the state. Forward in the Fifth, a nonprofit organization and affiliate of The Center, serves a 42-county primary service area in Southern and Eastern Kentucky and beyond.

Mrs. Beshear was in Somerset last fall to attend Pulaski County Literary Day, where nearly 1,000 fourth-grade students in Pulaski County were each presented a complimentary book by Somerset businessman and education supporter Chuck Coldiron, and participated in a regional dropout prevention summit hosted by Forward in the Fifth in 2010.

“Literacy is so critical to our daily lives,” said Forward in the Fifth Executive Director Jim Tackett. “These skill sets were at the heart of our mission more than 25 years ago when Forward in the Fifth was created and still rings true today.”

Forward in the Fifth was created in 1986 by U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05) and other leaders to work to reverse low educational attainment levels in the Fifth Congressional District.

“Those who can read and effectively communicate have a limitless potential that will never be surpassed,” Tackett said.

Other participants attending the meeting with the Fifth Lady included Vickie Slone, Danna Duff, and Donna Singleton, of Hazard; Patricia Burgan, Harlan; Alisa Huff and Eunice Waddles of Hindman; Pam Miller, Campton; Jennifer Sheens, Debbie Goble, and Charlene Horn, Prestonsburg; Mindy Ketcham, Tanya Halcomb, and Carla Hinkle of Barbourville; and Ronna LaFavers and Cynthia Ikerd of Somerset.

The Kentucky Literacy Celebration was created by the Collaborative Center for Literacy Development (CCLD) and First Lady Jane Beshear. Established by legislation in 1998, the CCLD’s mission is to promote literacy and address the diverse needs of all learners through professional development for Kentucky educators and research that informs policy and practice.

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