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A Driving force for Literacy


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Reprinted from Spring 2012 InterCom
By: Leah Hyatt


New Initiatives Enhance Cocky's Reading Express

The university's beloved Cocky has helped address dismal literacy statistics in South Carolina since 2005. This year, with the help of key partnerships and grants, his namesake organization incorporated new nutritional and financial literacy initiatives that engaged children, their families and the community.

Cocky's Reading Express™, a collaboration of the University of South Carolina Student Government and the School of Library and Information Science, was created to help students from pre-kindergarten to second grade reach a foundational reading level. When USC's South Carolina Center for Children's Books and Literacy, the home of Cocky's Reading Express, received a Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy grant, programming expanded to get families involved in supporting reading.

Kim Jeffcoat, executive director of SCCCBL, said literacy isn't just about reading. "My definition of literacy is whether you can understand and navigate through all the systems of society," she said.

Dr. Samantha Hastings, SLIS director, echoed the sentiment. "Literacy is the ability to find the information you need to live a productive and safe life. Being able to read is a building block. Literacy means you're able to recognize our language and use our language to make transactions."

Gamecock Mascot Cocky sitting with ChildrenTo address other kinds of literacy, Cocky's Reading Express established partnerships with nutritional and financial experts from Bi-Lo and South Carolina Bank and Trust to support additional initiatives for children and their families.

About 1,500 volunteers, students, family members and teachers attended a nutritional literacy event sponsored by Bi-Lo in partnership with Richland County School District One in October. Another nutritional literacy event at USC-Salkehatchie in February was the finale of the Barbara Bush grant. USC's first lady Patricia Moore-Pastides gave a cooking demonstration, parents received healthy recipes and each child took home a copy of Stacey Ballis' book "Good Enough to Eat."

To include a financial literacy component to Cocky's Reading Express, SCBT provided support for events at four schools in Orangeburg County during the spring semester. SCBT bankers themselves participated by sharing family-oriented money management information on improving one's credit score and saving for a child's education.

SCBT supports financial literacy because developing financial literacy skills can have a long-term influence on the state. Donna Pullen, director of public relations and special projects at SCBT, and Nate Barber, community development officer at SCBT, agreed. "When people learn to better manage their finances, they tend to be more successful. In the long run, this helps improve the economic climate and build more stable communities."

Dr. Hastings emphasized the importance of including the whole community and the children's parents in efforts to remedy illiteracy. "As well as helping the child, we have to bring the value of reading to the family and the community because children emulate," said Dr. Hastings. "Involvement and commitment by the parents to learn more, to explore and to be more independent in the way they use information influence the child to do the same. You start to get the picture that it's a community effort."

SCCCBL is developing additional community literacy initiatives in other areas. "We have been asked to develop programming for environmental and health care literacy," said Jeffcoat. "We want to partner with businesses in the community who can provide funding and expertise. We will continue to expand our programming as we make new partners."

As Cocky's Reading Express works to eliminate illiteracy in South Carolina, the program faces both challenges and opportunities in the reality of the literacy situation in the state. "If you drive the rural back roads of South Carolina, the poverty is stark and real," said Dr. Hastings. "You realize whatever you do is going to make a difference."

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