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Nourishing Children’s Imaginations

Cobb Collaborative works to promote literacy in Cobb County through a community-wide reading initiative

By Irene Barton, Executive Director of Cobb Collaborative

As the local point of contact for the Get Georgia Reading Campaign, the Cobb Collaborative works to promote literacy in Cobb County through a community-wide reading initiative that unites families, educators, and community partners. Data reveals that children who read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to graduate from high school — paving the way to higher education, better employment opportunities, and improved health outcomes. As one of many solutions geared toward improving outcomes for children and families, proficient literacy and language skills have been proven to directly influence the opportunities and successes of their lives.

We are beyond thrilled to serve as the local point of contact for the Get Georgia Reading Campaign and to build a partnership of engaged stakeholders in order to move the needle on access to reading materials in our community. There is a direct link between reading skills and high school graduation rates, which of course leads directly to employment opportunities, economic stability and ultimately, the health of our communities. It’s not an exaggeration to note that proficient readers become engaged citizens.

Early Learning Work: The Basics
Incredibly, the human brain doubles in size in the first year. It keeps growing to about 80 percent of adult size by age 3 and 90 percent — nearly full grown — by age 5. That’s why the earliest years are critical to developing strong readers and engaged students. Our commitment to literacy begins with our youngest residents and their families and is anchored by The Basics.

The Basics consists of five principles that were distilled from scientific literature by the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University to create equity across all backgrounds for every child. The framework uses a public health approach called socioecological saturation to achieve this. We know that parents and caregivers want the best for their children, yet all kids today are subject to stress and competing demands on their time and resources. We also acknowledge that parents give care and attention within their own contexts, whether that is cultural or experiential. In the spring of 2021, the Cobb Collaborative was selected as one of only 10 sites across Georgia to bring The Basics collective impact model to our community. The five principles support social, emotional, and cognitive development of children up to 5 years old, helping to boost brain development and improving kindergarten readiness. The principles combine scientific rigor with a broad coverage of key domains of early-childhood development and are simple enough to commit to memory for efficient program implementation:

  1. Maximize Love, Manage Stress
  2. Count, Group and Compare
  3. Talk, Sing and Point
  4. Explore through Movement and play
  5. Read and Discuss Stories

The Collaborative offers training to community partners and shares print and digital resources supporting The Basics. We also offer interactive and engaging parent/caregiver workshops and distribute Basics Bundles, which include tactile objects that support the five principles along with a tip sheet. Our Basics resources are available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Learn more at thebasicscobbcounty.org.

Little Free Libraries
Little Free LibraryDriven by the motivation of increasing access to books, the Collaborative has helped to establish 22 Little Free Libraries across Cobb County. Little Free Library (LFL) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to putting books in the hands of children and adults in communities around the world. These book-sharing boxes remove barriers to book access by being available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day with free accessibility. They operate under the “Take One, Leave One” theory which encourages readers to not only take a book, but to leave one for others when there is an ability to do so. Research tells us that starting from birth, frequent and interactive book reading is associated with cognitive and language development. One of the most successful ways to improve the reading achievement of children is to increase access to books, especially at home. This is a quintessential collaborative effort, with additional partners including the Cobb County School District, United Way of Greater Atlanta Northwest Region, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, businesses, civic associations and private foundations.

Any community benefits from the addition of a Little Free Library, but we have an intentional focus on under-resourced neighborhoods because we know that children in low-income households have approximately ONE book per 300 children versus middle income households who enjoy approximately 13 titles per child. We are grateful for support that helps us install and maintain LFLs in order to grant free access to books across Cobb County.

Literacy and Justice For All
We are honored to work alongside Marietta City Schools to create a language-centered ecosystem and learning environment for children from birth to third grade. The goal of the “Literacy and Justice for All” grant is to use a community-wide commitment to the Science of Reading to empower every child in Marietta to be a proficient reader by the end of third grade. This work is critically important as schools address both the significant learning loss resulting from the pandemic and the gaps in opportunity that often occur around literacy in our communities. Marietta-based investments from the United Way includes teaching resources, trauma-informed training, professional development, social-emotional learning, community programming, early learning opportunities, personnel, and evaluation.

The collective goal is not to “beat the odds” for a small number of children, but to change the odds for every child. The Cobb Collaborative leads “Literacy Ambassador” volunteers from each of Marietta City Schools elementary campus. Ambassadors share their unique perspectives as parents, family members, and caregivers of current students and are a “trusted voice” to their peers. Ambassadors are champions for their school, Marietta City Schools, and the Literacy & Justice For All initiative. They are an integral piece of the process of bringing educators and community leaders together to tackle the issue of literacy and helping every child be on a path of reading proficiency and ultimately to leading a life of self-determination.

“Pop Up” Book Giveaways
We enjoy collecting gently loved books and distributing them at community events, restocking our Little Free Libraries and building classroom libraries for teachers. The Collaborative distributed 5,123 books in the past year. We invite anyone who is cleaning out bookshelves to keep us in mind if you have children’s books. We’ll be happy to redeploy those! Many low-income neighborhoods are “book deserts,” meaning that it is difficult to access children’s books. Books develop and nourish children’s imaginations, expanding their worlds. They create questions and provide answers. Books inspire us.

The Cobb Collaborative is a membership of nonprofit organizations, local government, businesses, faith-based organizations, educational institutions, professional organizations, associations, and residents who share ideas, expertise, and resources to improve outcomes for children and families in Cobb. Visit www.cobbcollaborative.org to learn more.

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