The two-year Rural Library Fellowship, funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Save the Children, is attempting to boost the capacity of libraries and “activate libraries around third grade reading” according to Dreama Gentry, executive director of Partners for Education at Berea College. “In rural places, the library and the school are the hubs,” Gentry said. “Our focus is really how can libraries accelerate outcomes for kids.”

Nationwide, at least sixteen states and Washington D.C. require schools hold back most students who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Research shows if students are not reading at grade level by third grade, they are less likely to graduate high school. The Rural Library Fellowship comes at a time when test scores show many students have lost ground in reading and more are reading below grade level than last year due to the pandemic. Educators say many children have lacked access to books at school this year due to pandemic-related protocols.

Some libraries across the country have tried to innovate during the pandemic, offering mobile libraries, outdoor story times and mailing books to children at home. With the launch of the new fellowship program, twenty-two library employees from rural libraries nationwide will receive professional development on topics like brain science and early literacy, as well as coaching on how they can help boost literacy. Fellows will receive a small stipend and project funds to create a literacy-based program in their library. Some examples: updating libraries with culturally appropriate books or interactive activities like a “story walk” that incorporate literary elements through a walking trail.

Read the full article about rural libraries step in for reading proficiency by Jackie Mader at The Hechinger Report.