The roughly 37,000 rising first- and second-grade public school students in West Virginia will each receive five free books this summer, with the help of the Dollywood Foundation and state and federal funds.
The first two books will arrive at children’s homes this month. Three more will arrive next month, and their teachers will also get copies before the school year starts, according to the state Department of Education.
The department said it coupled $208,000 in state funds with $557,000 in federal funds to help buy the books, distribute them and fund other aspects of this project. It said the foundation helped lower the total cost.
Monica DellaMea, executive director of the Office of Early and Elementary Learning, said the books will be paired with other educational activities, like Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert and other West Virginians reading them aloud.
These read-alouds and other activities will be available at wvde.us/wv-blue-ribbon-book-club and during weekly segments on the Education Station show on West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
Country music icon Dolly Parton created the Dollywood Foundation, which started the Imagination Library.
DellaMea said Imagination Library already provides about 360,000 books annually to West Virginia kids, but those are only for children up through age 5.
“Because those children birth to five, in many cases, are receiving books through Imagination Library, we wanted to look at our kindergarteners and first-graders,” DellaMea said.
DellaMea said the idea began in April. That month, Gov. Jim Justice announced that the ongoing statewide school closures, instituted as a result of the pandemic, would be extended through the end of the school year.
“Especially when we think about children from low-income families, and the fact that there may be children in our state who don’t have books in their homes, we knew that we wanted to get books into the hands of children,” DellaMea said.
DellaMea said the education department partnered with Marshall University’s June Harless Center for Rural Education Research and Development, which will help engage families, and the department reached out to the Dollywood Foundation.
“Their board decided to approve this partnership unanimously,” DellaMea said.
“They literally bought the paper, they printed the books, they have a partnership with [publisher] Penguin Random House, and they printed the books to such a size that we were able to get such a reduced rate on postage with our partnership with them,” she said.
“Summer is here and it is the perfect time to relax and get lost in a great book,” said Nora Briggs, the foundation’s executive director, in an education department news release. “We hope the children love the books and enjoy reading them.”
State schools Superintendent Clayton Burch credited DellaMea for the negotiations to bring the books to West Virginia.