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Reading programs impacted by pandemic are more important than ever

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Ready to Read kids program

WAUSAU, Wis. (WAOW) -- Children learning to read has always been important, but now more than ever, experts are encouraging parents to make sure there are books at home.

The United Way of Marathon County provides a multitude of reading programs that benefit children and help them grow in their reading capabilities. Two of them include Reading Buddies and Ready to Read.

Ready to Read provides books to nine different area programs, that then get those books into the homes of families with children.

"The importance of reading in your home and having books is really stressing that parents as first teachers is so important," said Tara Glodowski, the Director of Community Impact for Education with United Way of Marathon County. "Sitting with your child, getting that connection, reading to them, having them hear those words, how words sound, syllables, stringing words together to create sentences, it's such a huge important thing."

In 2019, Ready to Read provided 8,500 books to different area homes. But when the pandemic hit, things started to look a little different.

The shelves that are usually filled with books, are a little more empty... and book delivery is a little slower.

So the United Way of Marathon County changed directions a little bit. The organization decided to donate books to school districts that are doing grab-and-go meals.

"When families came in and were getting meals, they were also getting a book that went home so they could go in and kind of pick on that certain reading level that age level and maybe a book that a kiddo hasn't had before," Glodowski said.

Ready to Read isn't the only reading program impacted by the pandemic. Reading Buddies has been affected as well.

The volunteer reading program usually gets adults into schools every week to read to K-2nd grade students during lunch hours.

"The students love meeting with the adults, they can't wait til the day of the week when their reading buddy comes, and they love the one-on-one attention, it's really important for them to have somebody just listen to them individually and enjoy that time with them," said Krista Mischo, Volunteer Engagement Coordinator with United Way.

However, after the pandemic shifted schools online, Reading Buddies has had to make some changes.

"In the future, it will probably be more virtual. We're looking at some different ideas where the students can read with their adult readers, but it would have to be computer- based," Mischo said.

In the meantime, Mischo encourages people to take advantage of their free Ready to Read bookshelves, located at seven different places throughout Marathon County.

"Our free bookshelf came out of a situation that happened at the end of the school year, we gave each child a free book, a free brand new book, and one of the students said I have never had a book of my own before," Mischo said.

She says the bookshelves are especially important to take advantage of during the summer, when kids aren't in school.

"There's something called the summer-slide, and they estimate students lose about 20 percent of their reading proficiency over the summer," Mischo said.

The bookshelves can be found at the following locations:

  • Catholic Charities, Wausau
  • Bridge Community Clinic, Wausau
  • Marathon County Social Services, Wausau
  • The Neighbor's Place, Wausau
  • Peaceful Solutions Counseling, Wausau
  • Spencer Kids Group, Spencer
  • Wausau Center Mall, Wausau

Mischo says she is still taking gently-used books for the shelves, but in limited capacity. She asks that you contact her at (715)- 848-2927 to arrange a pick-up or drop-off time.

Monetary donations to the United Way Campaign will also go towards purchasing new books for the two reading programs.

Ally Peters

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