Club Connect comes to the Old Mill Elementary School in Palmer

club_connect-story02For most of us, there are two key ingredients for developing a life-long love of reading: a good book and a quiet, comfy corner to curl up into. Sometimes an ordinary classroom setting isn’t the ideal place to get swept away in a story or lose yourself in dialog. That’s where United Way Club Connect comes in.

This year, the United Way of Pioneer Valley was chosen nationally as one of ten United Ways to participate in Club Connect. They selected the Old Mill Elementary School in Palmer as an ideal place to give their students an even better shot at reading success. With club membership, comes the following benefits:

  • A Scholastic Reading Oasis, with more than 1,000 books and a comfortable, inviting space for children to read in throughout the year.
  • Access to an online website engaging children in a variety of reading activities 365 days a year.
  • Parent engagement, including emails and corporate incentive programs to reach parents and increase their involvement in their child’s reading.

This May, the Old Mill Elementary school opened their Reading Oasis, situated on the stage in the school cafeteria. A faux fireplace is circled with colorful beanbags and flanked by shelves teeming with books for all ages and reading levels.

On a recent Monday morning, as students streamed into the space, selected a book and plopped down in beanbag, Mrs. Jacqueline Haley, the school’s principal, was beaming. “I’d never imagined this space could be used this way,” she said. “It wouldn’t have been possible without United Way’s support.”

Steve Lowell, President of Monson Savings Bank, was also present. As a United Way board member, he understands the importance of early literacy and wanted to see for himself how the Reading Oasis worked. Joining students on the rug, he agreed it was an ideal place for young children to “get wrapped up in a good book. This can really make a difference in students’ lives.”

Beyond the pleasure reading can bring, it’s a fundamental building block of any student’s education.

“Research tells us that children who can read proficiently by third grade are much more likely to successfully graduate high school,” said Sylvia De Haas Phillips, Senior Vice President of Community Impact and Engagement for the United Way of Pioneer Valley. “That’s why United Way Club Connect is such a game changer for schools like Old Mill Elementary School in Palmer.”

United Way Club Connect is part of a broader effort to increase area graduation rates. United Way volunteers also tutor students and help with homework. Providing children with greater access to books, as well as a supportive environment where they can read, will help ensure they don’t fall behind. In fact, having regular access to a large book collection and a reading role model has a greater impact on a child’s reading frequency than household income. Reading frequency translates to reading fluency, the main ingredient in school success—not just in the early grades, but throughout a child’s academic career.

Altogether, generous individual and corporate donors have adopted 87 schools in 15 states in 2015 and 2016. They donated more than 43,500 books and impacted the lives of 46,000 students.

— Mark Roessler

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