Every Child Reads Jones County supporting youth as pandemic impacts linger

The pandemic has made life more challenging for students. Every Child Reads Jones County is working at the forefront of issues to find solutions through community partnerships. The group, which is an initiative of the Jones County Community Foundation, held an education session this month to engage parents, teachers, local organizations and other interested community members in its ongoing efforts to support youth. 

“Before the pandemic, 33% of students were not reading at grade-level by third grade. Those numbers have risen,” says Heather Weers, the initiative’s coordinator.

Every Child Reads focuses on three key factors that influence a child’s ability to read: school readiness, summer learning and school attendance. Getting books into the hands of children is important for improving the first two factors. 

Over the summer, Weers forged partnerships with school lunch programs to ensure students who needed lunches also had access to books. She assembled packets of books and other resources for preschool teachers conducting summer home visits, and she added books to back-to-school supply distributions. 

Because of the initiative’s connection to the Community Foundation, Weers was able to partner with Every Child Reads initiatives facilitated by peer foundations in Dyersville and Jackson County to apply for a grant from the Dubuque Racing Association. That grant helped Every Child Reads distribute books to Jones County libraries to help meet children’s social-emotional needs.

Every Child Reads partnered with Iowa State University Jones County Extension for grab-and-go kits to supplement summer learning. Other partners include HACAP and the Teufelhund Veterans Group. A special Read to Dream series featured local celebrities reading books virtually to kids. 

So far this year, Every Child Reads has distributed more than 1,600 books to Jones County youth. In 2020, the initiative gave away nearly 3,700 books. 

Emphasizing the importance of school attendance has also been at the forefront of Every Child Reads’ activities. Weers convened leaders from every elementary school district in the county to discuss attendance policies and work together toward a uniform system for ensuring that children don’t miss too many days of school. Jones County Attorney Kristofer Lyons and Assistant County Attorney Amy Dollash, who handle chronic absenteeism cases, also engaged in the conversation, encouraging school leaders to reach out sooner for assistance. 

“The school administrators have drafted a consistent attendance policy for the county attorney to review,” says Weers. “Even more than this policy, we are very excited about the cooperation and relationships being built between district leaders.” 

If you are interested in getting involved with Every Child Reads Jones County, please contact Weers at jonescountyglr@gmail.com