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First Lady of Montana discusses childhood literacy in Great Falls

First Lady discusses childhood literacy at Longfellow Elementary.png
Posted at 9:55 AM, Aug 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-17 11:55:06-04

GREAT FALLS — On Wednesday morning, Montana First Lady Susan Gianforte met with teachers and a committee who is promoting 'Dolly Parton's Imagination Library' program. Along with the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, Treasure State Foundation and Gianforte Foundation, Great Falls Public Schools says the vision to mail a book to every child from birth to five years old has become a reality.

"It was quite the honor to have the First Lady here today at Longfellow," said Longfellow Elementary School and Meadow Lark Elementary School associate principal Lacee Lewis. "She got to meet some teachers training with some of our intense kiddos, and it was great to listen to her perspective on the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and getting books out to kids. We know that's very important, just building that language background and having that conversation piece, but also building kids' stamina, too."

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library was launched in 1995, to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee, USA. The country singer's vision was to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families. The new program gave each child a specially selected book each month. By mailing high quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, Dolly wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. Moreover, she could ensure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income.

Since its launch, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has set and surpassed many goals and milestones. National replication, which started in 2000, allowed more and more communities to adopt the program. State-wide coverage was established in Tennessee in 2004.

The first book order in 1995 totaled just over 1,700. Today, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library sends more than 2 million books per month to children around the world inspiring them to Dream More, Learn More, Care More and Be More.

Each month, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library mails a high quality, age-appropriate book to all registered children, addressed to them, at no cost to the child’s family. Countless parents have shared how excited their child is when their new book arrives each month.

Longfellow Elementary School intervention teacher Kristin Cecce discussed her experience with the program.

"I signed my niece up for this about four and a half years ago, when she was born, and she absolutely loves the program," she said. "The books that she gets every month is her favorite books for that whole month. It also includes videos from Dolly of her reading the books, singing them, or giving birthday messages every year, which she really enjoys. I also signed up my youngest foster child who is three for the program, and her older siblings love to read the books with her and to get themselves involved as well."

Staff said it is part of Great Falls Public Schools' mission to promote early childhood education through literacy.

Cecee said, "A lot of studies have shown that the younger we can expose children to reading and skills, the better readers they will become. Especially with the third-grade mission coming up for the state, getting kids on grade level. It will help a lot if we can get kids exposed younger and younger."

Lewis stated, "We are working to emphasize getting books into kids' hands. The younger the better. Our district works very hard with little kids' needs at any level, but the more we can do that prior to them coming to school, the better."

Montana is enrolling all children birth to 5 to receive FREE books every month until their fifth birthday.

"We have signed up 1645 children and are on track to signing up 80% of the children in the county by the end of 2023,” commented Carol Paul, GFPS Student Services Coordinator. “This gift of books in the home gives every child in Montana a better chance to gain reading skills early in school.”

The information to sign up children has been placed in healthcare offices, daycares, schools, the Great Falls Public Library, hospitals and Hutterite colonies in Cascade County.

To have books mailed to your child, click here to register: