The Santa Barbara Public Library System has been selected to receive a National Literacy Directory Innovation Grant Award for its innovative approach to equipping children to be family literacy promoters. The Library’s Reading Ambassador Program trains elementary school children as storytellers and encourages them to read with younger friends and family members outside of school. The program was a product of a collaboration between the Santa Barbara School District’s A-OK Afterschool Program and the Public Library and has trained over 200 Reading Ambassadors since 2013. Additionally, over 550 children have been trained as “Summer Storytellers” in an abbreviated version of the program. Current participating partners include: A-OK, Girls Inc., the Westside Boys and Girls Club, United Way’s Fun in the Sun Program, and Parks and Recreation’s Summer Fun Program, among others.
The Library received the grant in part because of the demonstrated success of the program. Over half of children with a younger sibling at home report reading to them more frequently a month after they “graduate” as Reading Ambassadors. Parents noted that their younger children were more interested in books and reading after their older child had been trained as a storyteller. Additionally, one third of reluctant readers stated that they read more frequently and felt that they were better readers after the program, regardless of whether they had a younger family member at home. “I learned that reading to kids is really fun!” noted an enthusiastic Reading Ambassador.
The $1000 award will be used to purchase materials for the Library’s new early literacy program, 1000 Books Before Kindergarten. By encouraging family storytellers to track their reading and providing incentives to do so, the Library hopes to give Reading Ambassadors the tools to firmly establish a habit of recreational reading at home. “This will make the program more than just a one-time intervention,” reflects project coordinator Lisa Gonzalez, “We want to reinforce a culture of reading and storytelling for every family in our community.” The Reading Ambassador and Summer Storytellers Programs are part of the larger Read Together Project, which is supported by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.
With listings for more than 10,000 educational agencies across the United States, the National Literacy Directory helps individuals find local literacy, education, and GED testing centers in their areas. The Directory awards Innovation Grants to recognize and reward innovative literacy and education programs that find solutions to persistent challenges. The National Literacy Directory is a joint effort of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, the National Center for Families Learning, and ProLiteracy.