Kids love to learn. But to do it right, the whole community has to learn with them.
That is the idea behind the "Raising Readers" program by the national Public Broadcast Service (PBS) - which airs such shows as "Sesame Street" and "Reading Rainbow."
Now, PBS is taking their effort to the streets. Storm Lake has been chosen as one of two cities in Iowa where PBS will undertake an intense, year-long pilot program to improve childhoos literacy.
"This isn't about TV - it's about books," says Jennifer Konfrst, PBS' community services spokesperson. "The need is very high for this - not just to reach out to children - but to their families and the whole community."
Storm Lake and Perry were chosen as the first two cities for the Raising Readers program - based both on geography and demographics.
"We want this to grow into a statewide effort, so we didn't want to do it in Des Moines," Konfrst said. Income levels and multiculturalism was also considered in searching for the first two cities. "We wanted places where we could make a real impact."
The program will kick off with busloads of 40 chosen Storm Lake representatives and children who will be taken to the State Fair to meet the Sesame Street character "Walkaround Elmo," Iowa First Lady Mari Culver and Storm Lake Mayor Jon Kruse on stage for a "VIP Story Time" kickoff of the campaign.
"Then we will be in Storm Lake for at least a year. We will work with parents and teachers and day cares. We will give books to parents and children. There will be lots of resources, classes, book clubs. We will be part of the community and everything we do will be based on the best research on most effective ways to create a love for reading," Konfrst said.
The initiative stresses sustainability. "We don't want this to end when we leave. Everything will be built to continue on," Konfrst said.
It will be crucial to make the project fun - for tots and adults.
"We have to make sure the programs are engaging. We have to recruit the parents and local organizations as active partners, and it can be especially tough to reach low-income families," she said. "We have to do it not just in school, but in the churches, the day cares - wherever families are. It also has to be tailored to what Storm Lake needs. Every community is a little different."
Eventually, Raising Readers will begin to train local leaders to serve as trainers for others in the future, in hopes of spreading the campaign for literacy.
TBS will put its money where its mouth is, also producing two new shows to go with the literacy effort - a revivial of the iconic '70s educational show "The Electric Company" and "Martha Speaks" - based on a popular book about a dog who learns to speak by eating alphabet soup. Teachers will be able to tie into curriculum using the shows as well as other materials.
Raising Readers pilot projects are co-funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Iowa Public Television is one of 20 public broadcasting companies worldwide selected for the pilot and invited to choose a community for their first experimental effort.