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The Sanchez children, Colton, 4, Callie Sue, 2 and Charlotte, 7, are huge fans of the Duncan Library. The younger two will be participating in the 1,000 Books by Kindergarten program.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 34% of American 4th graders read below the basic reading level for their grade and studies have shown illiteracy is the main reason people drop out of high school. The studies have also shown most drop outs were behind when they started kindergarten.

With that in mind, Greenlee County libraries have joined a national program called 1,000 Books before Kindergarten. As the name suggests, literacy advocates across the U.S. would love for children to have read 1,000 books before their first day of school. Obviously in the case of newborns, infants and toddlers, being read to counts as well.

Parents interested in the program can sign up at the Clifton or Duncan library and they’ll receive tracking sheets. Every time the child hits 100 books they’ll receive an incentive, said Jackie Sanchez, Greenlee County Library program director.

In the beginning, children will receive smaller incentives such as bookmarks and pencils, but with the business community’s help, Sanchez said they’d like to be able to offer snowcones and sodas as they get into the higher numbers.

Library staff will be talking to local principals and the hope is they’ll agree to throw a special lunch for those children who hit 1,000 by kindergarten, Sanchez said. Certificates and T-shirts will likely be awarded as well.

“This program can start when children are still infants,” Sanchez said. “When parents read to really small children they’re still learning, they’re still soaking in all of that information. I had one mom sign up her baby and her baby isn’t even born yet. I think she said she was seven-months along with a girl.”

In preparing for the launch of the program Oct. 1, Karen Soohy, Greenlee County librarian purchased a total of 700 books for the Clifton and Duncan libraries using grant funding from the 1,000 Book Foundation.

“We got board books and thin paperbacks and big and little books,” Sanchez said. “We got a really good variety.”

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Her children, 4-year-old Colton and 7-year-old Charlotte, were amazed when the shipment came in, she said.

Parents shouldn’t be intimidated by the number, Sanchez said. As anyone with small children knows, sometimes they can’t seem to get enough of the same book so reading the same book 15 times counts. The books they read also don’t have to be checked out from the library, she said.

Colton has probably had “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” read to him 1,000 times, Sanchez said.

“This program is to help get kids to start reading more books, to get them interested in reading,” Sanchez said.

She knows from personal experience that reading to children from a young age improves their literacy rate, Sanchez said. Her daughter Charlotte was read to in utero and she’s reading chapter books even though she’s only in the second grade.

Sanchez has high hopes for the program. Forty families signed up for the program at the Greenlee County Fair.

“We’re excited to get kids reading,” she said.

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