Children ages birth to five years in Red River Parish are now signing up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The program was introduced to the parish at the recent Back to School Bash. Photos with this story are Lynn Stevens, COO of United Way of Northwest Louisiana, signing up children at the recent Back to School Bash; Clint Poche, representative of BHP Billiton at the Bash; and the smiling youngster signing up for the Imagination Library is Timothy Winn.
The grant funding provided by BHP Billiton will allow UWNWLA to support and sponsor nearly 250 children in Red River Parish. Clint Poche from BHP told the Journal, “We are helping in an the area of most need in terms of education and health. This is our first involvement with United Way.” Poche added, “After surveying the 10 parish area in northwest Louisiana, we see Red River with the highest number of at-risk children entering kindgarten.
BHP Billiton has provided seed money for three years to fully establish the program in the area. This nationally recognized program provides every child who enrolls with one age appropriate book each month, creating their own personal library. It inspires families to read more frequently to their children and catalyze our community to invest more time, talent and treasures to better prepare children to enter kindergarten ready to succeed. Funding will need to be secured after the three-year grant dollars have been used to maintain the program.
The population served is children from birth to five years of age in Red River Parish zip codes. With this funding, United Way will add all zip codes in Red River Parish to the DPIL program, serving 228 children of the 3,320 households living in the parish. According to the ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) Study of Financial Hardship, 40 percent of the population is struggling to afford basic needs.
United Way will focus on two areas that have the highest percent of families living below the ALICE threshold in the first few months: 1) Coushatta (64%) and Martin (44%). In Red River Parish, elementary schools scored a D letter grade, according to the Louisiana Department of Education. Furthermore, 49 percent of students in grades 3-8 scored below grade level on state assessments. Sixty-four percent of children in Red River Parish entering kindergarten are unprepared.
Every child enrolled in the program is tracked through software administered through the Imagination Library Foundation. Ongoing reports are produced and provided to each school in each of the sponsored zip codes so administrators can use to compare DIEBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) testing scores.