kids laughing

Photos by Danielle Honeycutt and Karoline Risker

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

One of the best environments for the development of strong literacy skills for kids usually happens at school, but when class ends for the year and children go home for the summer, those reading skills tend to fall off and can sometimes stop developing altogether.

For nearly a decade, Paragould First UMC has aimed to break that summer reading slump with its Ready, Set, Read summer program, a weeklong event that encourages kids in the area to continue reading and learning during the summer months.

“Ready, Set, Read came out of a Wednesday night Bible study in which Angela (Newby) and I were both participating,” said Danielle Honeycutt, one of the program coordinators for Ready, Set, Read. “The study was over the book, ‘Outlive Your Life’ by Max Lucado. During the discussion, Angela and I started talking about the low literacy rate of our students and we wondered how we could break the cycle.”

The idea that spawned from that meeting was Ready, Set, Read. Newby, who is also a program coordinator for the event, and Honeycutt said the mission of the event is getting kids to read during the summer, with the hope of avoiding the regression that happens when they’re out of school for several months.

kids with firefighter

Photos by Danielle Honeycutt and Karoline Risker

Ready, Set, Read takes place at the Paragould FUMC during one week of the summer. This year, the event was June 28 – July 2, and according to the Rev. Chase Burns, associate pastor at Paragould FUMC, between 75 and 100 kids from around the city participate each year.

The church makes use of its abundant space to hold fun events for the kids, including their gym, worship center, six classrooms, a youth room, playground, and various other small gathering rooms for guest readers to use.

Kids who participate in Ready, Set, Read are bused to the church in the morning. Each day consists of a shared activity and story reading, grade level readings where kids are divided into age-appropriate groups, free lunch, special guest readers from the local community, game time, and finally, an end-of-day devotional.

Through the use of guest readers, Ready, Set, Read opens up the event for local leaders to participate in their community and also allows an opportunity for the kids to meet police officers, firefighters, and city officials who help run their city.

Some of this year’s guest readers included Paragould School District and Greene County Tech School District principals and superintendents; Paragould police officers, firefighters, and paramedics; and representatives from the Paragould Chamber of Commerce, Junior Auxiliary, and Nunn Construction. Paragould Mayor Josh Agee also participated in a video where he read the “Book With No Pictures” to his two young daughters.

Although Ready, Set, Read was already in place before 200,000 More Reasons launched their new literacy initiative, Burns said the mission of the event now fits in very nicely with the mission of 200,000 More Reasons. It has even led to a new pilot initiative, which will take place in 2021.

Burns said the new initiative is a series of mini Ready, Set, Reads that will happen off-campus at locations around the city. The mini-events will be half days, and they hope to have them quarterly throughout the year.

“During the quarterly events, we will be partnering with our mission committee (the committee that oversees the operations of the Witt House-our platform to feed those in need within our community). We plan to offer a meal, fellowship time, supplemental nutrition to take home, on-site snap assistance, a prayer booth, a group reading session, free literature games, and other opportunities to build relationships with one another as we share the love of Christ,” Burns said.

free book store

Photos by Danielle Honeycutt and Karoline Risker

Honeycutt and Newby said they hope that kids who participate in Ready, Set, Read leave the event with a love of learning and reading. 

“We sent them home with brand new books to start their own libraries at home. We want them to read while they aren’t at school and we want their siblings to read also. If we can get books into the hands of children and teach them about Jesus and serving and loving our neighbors, we have done our jobs,” Newby said.

Burns echoed that hope and said that Paragould FUMC’s mission doesn’t end with improving childhood literacy.

“We are looking forward to expanding our efforts in not only fighting childhood hunger, focusing on literacy, and promoting healthy, stable families as a means of hope and assistance for families to move out of poverty; we are looking forward to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, through loving God, serving others, and making a difference,” Burns said.