Mayor's Book Club: Rowan teams up with community leaders to promote literacy

Seven South Jersey schools and community library group have been selected to join forces with mayors from their communities to promote literacy to first-graders.

Through the second annual Mayor's Book Club, a program instituted by the Educational Foundation of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, and Rowan University, mayors from municipalities located in four South Jersey counties are challenging first-graders in their local school districts to read at least eight books during a three-month period. Each child who joins the Mayor's Book Club and reads the books from February through May will receive a book at the end of the program.

Additionally, in a unique twist, school districts where children read at least 1,000 books will receive $1,000 to purchase books for first-graders, according to Mount Arlington Mayor Art Ondish, President of both the League of Municipalities and its Educational Foundation.

"The objective of the program is to put books into the hands of children," said Hope Township Mayor Tim McDonough, chair of the Mayor's Book Club. "All of our participants believe in and endorse early literacy for our developing readers."

The program is being made possible in part by a generous $5,000 donation by South Jersey Industries, an energy services holding company that offers solutions to global warming through renewable energy, clean technology and efficiency. Other funders include Verizon NJ and
PSE&G.

"The mayors and school communities selected for the Mayor's Book Club are demonstrating a dual commitment to promoting literacy," Ondish says. "They applied together to be considered for the program and demonstrated a genuine level of dedication to getting children excited about reading."

First grade is a key year in the development of a child's love of reading, says Rowan professor Jane Bean-Folkes, who teaches in Rowan's Department of Language, Literacy & Special Education.

"Many children in New Jersey don't come from rich literary environments," says Bean-Folkes, co-chair of Rowan's efforts with Professor Midge Madden. "Instilling a love of reading really is crucial to a child's success in school."

Studies show that children who fall behind in reading by the end of third grade may never catch up with their peers or achieve grade-level reading proficiency.

According to Bean-Folkes, Rowan professors will work with the league and local districts to provide insights and suggestions to promote literacy. As part of the program, mayors will be visiting area schools to read to children and promote literacy.

Rowan is planning a celebration of literacy at the program's conclusion in May, according to Bean-Folkes.

The Mayor's Book Club offers book suggestions for first-graders that include, among others: Rapunzel by Rachel Isadora, a Caldecott Honor winner set in Africa; Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, a story about pen pals from America and India; and 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy, an elegant story of generosity set in a village in Kenya.

The following mayors have signed up to be part of the Mayor's Book Club:
Gloucester County
Glassboro: Mayor Leo McCabe (Dorothy L. Bullock Elementary School); Monroe Township: Mayor Michael Gabbianelli (Holly Glen Elementary School).

Camden County
Collingswood: Mayor James Maley (James Garfield Elementary School); Somerdale: Mayor Gary J. Passanante (Somerdale Park School).

Salem County
Elmer: Mayor Joseph Stemberger (Elmer Library Association); Elsinboro: Mayor Sean Elwell (Elsinboro Township Elementary School).

Cumberland County
Bridgeton: Mayor Albert B. Kelly (West Avenue Elementary School); Commercial Township: Mayor Donna Moore (Harleyville-Mauricetown Elementary School).