Wallowa County named 2021 Bright Spot Community

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Jun. 11—WALLOWA COUNTY — The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading announced last month that Wallowa County has been named a 2021 Bright Spot Community due to its efforts in keeping students engaged after COVID-19 forced school doors to shut.

Wallowa County is one of 54 communities that were recognized nationwide, and the only one in Oregon.

Every year, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading announces a list of Bright Spot communities based on school district achievements in early STEM curriculum, attendance, literacy rates and other criteria. This year, the organization highlighted communities that adapted to COVID-19 by introducing programs which effectively aided distance learning.

Community organization Building Healthy Families is partially responsible for these efforts due to their collaboration with local libraries around Wallowa County to provide children, specifically pre-kindergartners, with "to-go" reading kits.

"This has been a very challenging time to serve families and children in Wallowa County," Maria Weer, executive director of BHF, said. "Many of our usual activities have had to be reformatted because of COVID-19."

Soon after Wallowa County announced its transition to online learning, Building Healthy Families introduced "Story Time To Go" bags at Enterprise and Wallowa County libraries, which children and their families pick up every Monday to receive a new book and activities. The program has been ongoing since March of 2020, and the transition from in-person activities to this distanced version has increased community engagement, according to BHF Special Projects Coordinator Autumn Wilburn.

"In 2019, on an average month we were serving 64 families, and last September, we were able to provide 72 families with these activities," she said.

Building Healthy Families, founded in 1999 and based in Enterprise, has helped families throughout Eastern Oregon with its many support programs, including after-school tutoring programs, a youth entrepreneurship program and numerous parent education workshops.

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort by funders, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college. CGLR focuses on promoting early school success as an important building block of more hopeful futures for children in economically challenged families and communities.

"The program has been a major success, mainly because every book that a child reads improves their literacy skills," Wilburn said. "We've gotten so much positive feedback from families, so even with libraries in the area opening back up, there's no reason to stop the program yet."

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