Rifle Chamber of Commerce Bolsters Early Childhood Literacy in Colorado
In 2008, Annick Pruett, President and CEO of the Rifle Chamber of Commerce in Colorado read an article linking children who are read to at a young age with high levels of community involvement when they get older. Three years later Pruett reflects, “I thought ‘wow, what a great way to develop future business and community leaders.’” Through this inspiration, and through the leadership of Chamber board member Scott Becker, the Leaders for Readers program was created in Rifle, Colorado. Leaders for Readers is an initiative where community leaders visit preschool classrooms twice a month to read aloud to students. By bringing these leaders into the classroom to support their community and enliven the preschoolers with new books and strong role models, this program has had a lasting effect on an immeasurable number of individuals within the community.
At the same time Leaders for Readers was in development, a national program called Raising a Reader—Aspen to Parachute was developing through the Roaring Fork Valley Early Learning Fund. Raising a Reader is an award-winning early childhood literacy and parent engagement program that rotates award-winning books into children’s homes on a weekly basis. As a result of this program, the average child is exposed to nearly 80 books per year. In addition, according to an annual survey, Raising a Reader children scored up to 10 percentage points higher than non-program children in kindergarten reading readiness tests conducted by several local school districts.
As a board member for both Leaders for Readers and Raising a Reader—Aspen to Parachute, Becker noticed a shared goal between the two initiatives. Under Becker’s leadership, the Rifle Chamber of Commerce suggested that the Roaring Fork Valley Early Learning Fund take on the Leaders for Readers program as a supplement to the Raising a Reader—Aspen to Parachute program. The Early Learning Fund agreed and since, the Leaders for Readers program has flourished and expanded throughout the Rifle area.
Once a program only available in public Pre-K institutions, Leaders for Readers now operates in private day care centers as well as other facilities for young children. This is largely thanks to the recent outreach efforts of Raising a Reader, to reach those children who are not easily accessible geographically. Additionally, through funding from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the program has expanded across the state of Colorado to run in 38 schools with the help of 200 community volunteers. Its success is largely due to the Rifle Chamber of Commerce’s drive, passion, and ability to form lasting partnerships.