Rotary Club celebrates Reading Rockets program

Mar. 15—The Rotary Club of St. Simons Island celebrated 13 years of the local Reading Rockets program Tuesday at a luncheon, during which volunteers shared their experiences reading to preschool and kindergarten students in Glynn County.

The Reading Rockets program is a partnership with Marshes of Glynn Libraries and Glynn County Schools. The Rotary Club coordinates volunteer readers, who visit classrooms once a week to share a book or two with students.

The purpose of the program is to improve students' literacy skills and to get them exciting about reading. Doing so will have a lasting impact on these students' lives, said Tere Miller, assistant superintendent in Glynn County Schools for pre-K through fifth grade, who was a guest speaker at the lunch.

"By the age of 5 years old, 85% of a child's brain has been formed," she said. "That's amazing. Critical language development peaks between the ages of birth and 3. And unfortunately, after that the brain's ability to grow significantly decreases."

Children need to be read to every day to maximize their brain's potential development, Miller said. And the Reading Rockets program fills in the gaps for more than 500 local students.

"During those early years, if a child has been blocked from receiving those stimulating experiences from birth to 3 years old, and they aren't exposed to language, then those parts of the brain are less likely to develop to maximum capacity," she said. "And that follows a child for the rest of their lives.

"That's why programs like Reading Rockets are so powerful. Children need to hear adults reading to them and explaining vocabulary as you go."

The Reading Rockets volunteers managed to stay in schools even during the COVID-19 pandemic, when they transitioned to virtual reading sessions through Zoom and Google Meets.

The program has returned to in-person reading and continues to seek more volunteers, so that more local preschool and kindergarten students can benefit.

The Rotary Club also hopes to raise $1,500 to purchase "Pete the Cat" books for every student before the end of the school year.

"We've gotten a great deal from the Marshes of Glynn Libraries to get those books," said Kern Baker, coordinator of Reading Rockets for the Rotary Club. "It's important that they have a book when they leave school to take home and to read."

Baker said his reading time every Friday at St. Simons Elementary is the highlight of his week.

"Reading Rockets is a way to get into kindergarten and pre-K and get kids excited about reading," he said. "You ask questions along the way as you're reading a book and try to get them involved in the story."

Volunteer readers at the luncheon offered anecdotes about their experiences reading to local students. They reflected on students' endearing comments and observations, odd moments and the joyful experiences they've had.

"It's a real blast," said Jim Kielt. "Try it out. You'll love it."