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Well-Red character promotes reading on Celebrate Literacy Day
Head Start students get free books, meet Clifford the Big Red Dog
Hall County Head Start students Arturo Mojica, right, and Raul Arellano hug Clifford the Big Red Dog on Friday at the Hall County Butler Head Start center during a Celebrate Literacy Day event sponsored by the United Way of Hall County. In addition to the surprise visit, students received books to keep.

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United Way’s early reading initiative Read, Learn, Succeed

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A favorite character from literature came to life for more than 600 prekindergarten students who received books and a visit from Clifford the Big Red Dog on Friday as part of The United Way of Hall County’s Celebrate Literacy Day.

The event, which was recognized by the Hall County Board of Commissioners and Gainesville City Council, was coordinated to promote the importance of early childhood reading and learning.

“In a world that demands an educated workforce, literacy is foundational to even having a chance to being successful,” said Will Schofield, superintendent of the Hall County School System. “With what we know about literacy and the acquisition of vocabulary, the most important years are the 0 to 5 age range.”

The event aimed to encourage parents to read to their children at least 15 minutes a day, especially during the summer when many kids experience learning loss, and provided each child with four to five free books.

“They can predict what kids are going to drop out of school by the time they reach the third grade,” said Kelly Lee, chairwoman of the United Way of Hall County Board of Directors. “By reaching these kids early and keeping them reading on their grade level as they progress through school, we can keep them in school and make our community more successful.”

Schofield said some children, particularly those coming from impoverished homes, enter kindergarten with a working vocabulary of as few as 3,000 words, while others may have more than 15,000 words.

“The evidence is crystal clear, and it has been for over 60 years,” he said. “We have got to make a commitment as a nation and as a culture to ensure that young children come to school ready to learn with a rich vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Friday’s events started at New Holland Core Knowledge Academy and ended at the Hall County Butler Head Start center, though Clifford made some extra guest appearances at the Center for Pediatrics at The Longstreet Clinic and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center. In addition, Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan and Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Dick Mecum read proclamations to the students declaring Friday as Celebrate Literacy Day and stressing the importance of reading to children younger than 5.

The event was not just intended to promote literacy in youth but also to encourage parents to become more involved with reading, something the Head Start center already focuses on. Parents and children alike can check out books from their library, and free books are periodically distributed to parents.

For the children attending, however, the serious overtones of the event took a back seat to the excitement of meeting Clifford.

“I watch Clifford on my TV,” said a grinning Hautfadi Nyembue, a 4-year-old Head Start student who is learning English as a second language. “I want to pet his stomach, and I want a Clifford book.”