Oxford, Lafayette help fund local reading initiative for children

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, May 26, 2022

Since 2015, Lafayette County, the City of Oxford, Oxford School District and Lafayette County School District have fostered and grown a literacy education program.

The program, which reaches approximately 3,000 local students in early grade school, more than tripled reading proficiency in pre-K students from 19% to 72% last school year.

Known as the Lafayette Oxford University Early Learning Collaborative (LOUELC), the program stretches across four sites–Oxford and Lafayette County schools, the Willie Price Lab School and Mary Cathey Head Start.

One key element of LOUELC is L.O.U. Reads, a collaborative group of community leaders and local organizations dedicated to ensuring all children can read proficiently by the end of third grade. The program focuses its energy and expertise on school readiness, out-of-school time opportunities, attendance and targeted effort to improve reading.

One of L.O.U. Reads’ programs, Early Childhood Reading Development, was recently awarded a 318 seats for pre-K students through an Early Learning Collaborative with prospects to grow that number to 400.

“Pre-K is not universal, meaning the state does not provide money for that like they do for kindergarten and up,” said L.O.U. Reads Director Tamara Hillmer. “Brain development at this stage of a child’s life is important, which is why we are focused on providing those resources to parents that may be unable to afford pre-k tuition.”

Studies show that children, when given access to the proper resources to reach proficiency in reading, have a higher chance of shifting from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

When students fall behind, they are at risk of struggling through later grades as well as dropping out before earning a high school diploma.

Not all L.O.U. Reads programs are aimed entirely at kids, though. Parent Academy, which was paused due to COVID but has since resumed, trains parents of children 3-5 years of age on how to prepare for kindergarten.

At no cost to the family, parents receive hands-on instruction in oral language, early reading, math and general development. They also get free materials and take-home activities to help support their learning and development.

“Parents are their child’s first teacher,” Hillmer said. “Preparing parents for their role in their child’s development can give their child a head start, improving their future.”

To continue fostering early childhood development, L.O.U. Reads encourages the community to donate their time or money to the initiative. Financial donations to L.O.U. Reads double as a tax credit. For example, if an individual or business donates $500, that $500 will be discounted from your state taxes owed.

If you pay more than you owe in state taxes, the excess credit will roll over to the next year.

Volunteers can help in different ways from small projects to the whole school year. Whether it’s gathering materials, instructing students or reading stories to the students, as the program continues to grow, so will the need for more volunteers.

If you are interested in donating to or volunteering with L.O.U. Reads, visit their website at loureads.org or contact Tamara Hillmer at tlhillmer@oxfordsd.org or (662) 234-3541, ext. 71434.