How do you improve Buckingham County’s literacy? An Imagination Library

Published 12:54 pm Sunday, October 23, 2022

DILLWYN – Lynda Harrill wants all children in Buckingham County to be prepared before heading off to school. She wants to help them not just learn to read, but build their vocabulary and develop a love for it. That’s why Harrill, the founder and coordinator of QuickStart in Central Virginia, has set up her group to partner with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program.

Dolly Parton started the Imagination Library 27 years ago by giving books to kids in her hometown in Tennessee. This program has now grown across the country and has given out 190 million books to young children. This program mails a free age-appropriate book each month to children ages zero through four years old to their homes. In order for this program to come to an area, the Imagination Library has to partner with a local nonprofit organization. Here, that happens in two ways. The Central Virginia Library is serving Buckingham and Prince Edward Counties and the Town of Farmville and Cumberland County Public Library is serving Cumberland County.

Since it became available in Buckingham, Harrill said 195 children have enrolled, each receiving a free book each month. It’s a need in this community, as no part of Buckingham County falls outside of the low-income classification. In fact, Virginia’s economic data shows portions of Buckingham classify in the 93rd percentile of low-income residents in the state. For families with young children, especially those under five, it can be hard to provide them with reading materials outside of the classroom.

“Research shows that in low-income areas, there is one book for every 300 kids,” Harrill said. “Many kids get to school and have never seen an age-appropriate book before. The thing about literacy is it affects everything.”

Imagination Library helps shape literacy 

According to Harrill, if someone has trouble reading it can cause difficulty in other areas of life. Students can struggle in other subjects that require reading, including reading word problems in math class. Reading can also impact health as doctors often give informational pamphlets for patients to take home and read.

And reading scores haven’t been the best here in Buckingham County. This year’s Standards of Learning (SOL) tests show only 60% of Buckingham students passed or showed improvement. Even though that number looks bad, it’s actually an improvement from the 49% that passed one year ago. At the elementary level, which Harrill is hoping to prepare students for, the numbers are lower. Only 56% of students passed their reading exam for this year’s SOL. That’s also an improvement, up from 43% last year, but still, more work is needed.

That’s where Harrill hopes the Imagination Library can help, preparing students for those tests by getting them interested in books at a younger age. With Virginia’s overall third-grade reading test scores ranging in the 65% range, Harrill hopes early reading can help bring those scores up and set many students up for success.

Harrill also sees other benefits in reading, as too much time on iPhones, laptops and tablets can cause problems, especially for younger children.

“This is a wonderful program and every child should have books,” said Harrill. “Exposure to screens early in life can cause worse eyesight and overstimulation. Whereas books are more calming and bring out the imagination. There are a lot of uses for books.”

To sign up here in Buckingham County, visit imaginationlibrary.com.