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American music icon visits Kansas to celebrate Imagination Library

American music icon visits Kansas to celebrate Imagination Library

Kansas is 15th state in nation to offer statewide access to Dolly Parton’s program

Before Dolly Parton’s father died, he told his daughter that her Imagination Library was one of the most important things the singer-songwriter had done during her lifetime.

“The reason I came up with it is because of my own daddy,” Parton told a crowd of about 450 people gathered Monday, Aug. 14, at the White Theatre at the J in Overland Park.

Parton was inspired by her father’s inability to read and write, so she started the Imagination Library in 1995 to help encourage children to read.

Earlier this month, it was announced that every Kansas child from birth to their fifth birthday can receive free books each month from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. This is made possible through increased funding provided to the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund by Gov. Laura Kelly and the Kansas Legislature. These funds supplement local and regional resources to ensure equitable opportunity across the state.

Since its inception in 1995, the Imagination Library has gifted more than 200 million free books in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Republic of Ireland.

Pratt, Kansas, was the first Imagination Library site outside of Tennessee in 2005. Kansas had more than 52,200 children enrolled before the statewide expansion was announced. The Imagination Library of Kansas has gifted more than 3.8 million books to children since 2005.

Gov. Kelly said another 10,000 Kansas children have signed up since the announcement of the statewide expansion.

“You learn to read and then you read to learn,” Gov. Kelly said. “It is important to make sure that our very youngest are getting the tools that they need to be able to learn when they get into our K-12 programs.”

Before Parton took the stage at Monday’s private event to celebrate the statewide expansion of the program, Gov. Laura Kelly and Rep. Troy Waymaster spoke about the importance of offering the program to the entire state.

“I’m a firm believer in high-quality early childhood education programs like the Imagination Library of Kansas,” Kelly said. “It is essential to putting children on the path to long-term success.”

Waymaster introduced his wife and son who were sitting in the crowd. He said he had the idea to expand the Imagination Library statewide after realizing how much joy he and his wife experienced when reading books from the Imagination Library to their son. The Waymasters signed their son up to participate in the Imagination Library program at his birth. Kansas becomes the 15th state in the nation to offer statewide access to the program, Gov. Kelly announced.

“We cherished the time with him as we sat and read to him his newly arrived book,” Waymaster said. “He has his own library that was made possible by the Imagination Library. Every child, every family across Kansas should have the same opportunity.”

However, the program wasn’t offered in all of Kansas’ 105 counties, so Waymaster began the process of bringing the Imagination Library to every child in the state.

Kelly and Parton sat down together onstage to have a brief conversation. Kelly had some prepared questions for Parton about the Imagination Library of Kansas.

“Well, Dolly, I have to tell you that this is so awkward for me in many ways because I haven’t been the one asking questions since I left the state Senate,” Kelly jokingly told Parton.

“Well, it’s about time you started up again, don’t you think?” Parton quipped back, which brought a roar of laughter from the audience.

“I’m excited to be here today,” Parton said. “I’m just so happy about this. We’ve been going for a few years now, but we have a long way to go. We need to put more books in the hands of more kids.”

Parton sang two songs – “Coat of Many Colors” and “Try” – for the audience before departing. While her stay in Kansas was brief, she left a lasting impression and helped raise awareness about the importance of early literacy.

“The Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is an incredible opportunity for Kansas families to foster an early love of reading with their children,” said Amanda Petersen, director of the Kansas State Department of Education’s Early Childhood team and a member of Gov. Kelly’s Early Childhood Transition Task Force. “Reading together is one of the best ways to get ready for success in school. Achieving statewide access of the Imagination Library comes as Kansas educators are strengthening their skills and knowledge to effectively teach reading.”

The Kansas State Board of Education in 2021 allocated $15 million to address early literacy. The initiative – called Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS®)is a professional learning course that trains educators in the science of reading. LETRS® training is available for free to educators in state-accredited systems.

More than 7,800 Kansas educators have completed the professional development to date, with additional opportunities remaining, Petersen said.

“Pairing access to books at home with strong support for families as they read together and effective instructional practice at school is one of the most important steps Kansas can take to help students succeed,” she said.

Melissa Rooker, executive director of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund, said the financial support of all local program partners and sponsors is appreciated.

“When the Children’s Cabinet was named statewide lead for the Imagination Library, the program was available in 76 counties, some with only partial coverage,” Rooker said. “Today, we are proud to share the gift of reading to families in every zip code in the state. Dolly’s vision is to ensure that every child has access to good books to develop a love of reading and give them a successful start in life. Her program brings joy to all involved.”

Parents can enroll their qualifying child in the Imagination Library of Kansas program at https://kschildrenscabinet.org/imaginationlibrary/. When a child begins to receive the Imagination Library books in the mail, it is important for Kansas families to do their part.

“Read those books to your kids,” Gov. Kelly said. “Don’t let them sit on the shelf. Take them down and read them, and then read them again and again and again.”

Posted: Aug 17, 2023,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush

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