The Whitehall branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library this year is reaching out to students who might need a little more help with homework, focusing specifically on third-grade literacy.
In response to the state's new Third Grade Reading Guarantee, coordinators at the Whitehall branch's Homework Help Center have launched an afterschool reading club and a new game designed to increase the number of hours third-graders spend with their nose in a book.
"We are really trying to pump up their reading skills, even pushing them beyond the third-grade level," said Kris Hickey, youth-services manager at the Whitehall branch.
In an effort to encourage third-graders to boost their reading skills, visitors to the Homework Help Center could play Library Land. Fashioned after the childhood favorite, Candyland, children move playing pieces along a giant playing board on the wall every time they read a book at the library. After they have reached certain milestones, they earn small prizes like character buttons, pencils, erasers and other small toys.
Hickey said branch staff members also have created an afterschool reading club that attracts students via the promise of a party after 10 visits for a good read.
To spur even further interest, staff members from the library are stopping into the Homework Help Center on a regular basis for Book Talk, where they review their favorite picture book or beginner novel.
All of this is in addition to the regular offerings, like help with homework, free supplies and plenty of reference materials to satisfy even the most savvy of researchers.
"This is a different environment," said Breana Bowen, the branch's Homework Help Center coordinator. "It's not like Mom and Dad standing over you. We are trying to initiate the help in a fun way."
Bowen is adamant that community involvement in a student's life is essential.
"It's important we recognize that they are our future," she said. "We need to educate them as best as possible while recognizing that sometimes they don't have all the resources at home. We want our community to know, too, how important it is to us that we are helping nurture these young minds."
Helping students academically is just part of their job, said Bowen, who calls herself a "young professional."
"This is not just a place to learn but a place to grow emotionally, too," Bowen said. "They come in, and it's a young environment ... a different environment. We want to try and connect with them."
Deliberate efforts by staff and volunteers have proven fruitful, Hickey said. The number of visitors to Whitehall's Homework Help Center has tripled in the past year. In fact, the center went from an average of 15 visitors per day in previous years to 55 and 60 a day last year.