Reading proficiency is a skill to keep ‘Ferst’

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Ferst Readers of Lincoln County provides free books to more than 1,300 children up to age 5 every month, but needs donors’ help to fund the program.

Each book provided is specifically chosen for the child’s age and level of development and mailed to their home.

Reading regularly with children, beginning at birth, greatly affects how a child’s brain develops and makes them better learners when they start school, according to Lincoln County Community Action Team member Katherine Bumgarner. Children who start kindergarten having had early reading experiences at home are happier and more successful students all through school.

The program is free to recipients, but it is not free to operate. Support for the program comes from community donations — individuals, civic groups, businesses, schools, churches and other local organizations.

“Since we have grown so much in four years, our costs have increased each month,” Bumgarner said. “Numbers fluctuate every month as new babies are added and older children ‘graduate’ out of the program. The highest month we have had recently saw 1,183 children receiving books at a cost of $3,153.88.”

No child age 5 and under will be turned down for book requests. Every baby born at King’s Daughters Medical Center in Brookhaven is registered for the Ferst Reader program.

Approximately 58% of Lincoln County children are already participating in the Ferst Readers program — 1,316 children have received books over the past year. Of the approximate 2,243 children under age 5 in the county, only 45% (age 3-4) are enrolled in preschool or nursery school; 24.6% live in poverty; more than 55% live in low-income homes, as reflected in the county’s free/reduced lunch eligibility rate.

Two out of every three kindergarten students in Mississippi begin school lacking foundational reading and readiness skills, according to Mississippi Campaign for Grade Level Reading. Children who are not reading proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school at some point. About 74% of the state’s fourth-graders are not reading proficiently.

Sixty-one percent of low-income families don’t have books in the home suitable for children. Thirty-seven percent of children arrive at kindergarten without necessary reading skills. Children who are not reading on grade level by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school.

Eighty-three children were born at KDMC in August, and were automatically added to the Ferst Readers program.

“We are hoping to continue this wonderful program, but the community’s support is very much needed as our numbers rise,” Bumgarner said. “Lincoln County is the only Mississippi county to be providing this program for its children. We cannot wait to see the results as our participants enter school here in the Home Seekers Paradise.”

For donations of $36 per year, a child can begin building his or her own library at home. Donations are needed to keep the program going. To make a donation or to find out more, visit www.ferstreaders.org, email LincolnCounty@ferstreaders.org or call 888-565-0177.

“We are thankful for the success of this program and cannot wait to see the results of its as evidenced when these children are enrolled in school,” said Bumgarner.