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Roanoke News

Posted on: April 29, 2021

Roanoke Recognized for Supporting Early School Success During COVID-19 Pandemic

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading announced this week that it has named Roanoke, Virginia and its Star City Reads initiative a 2021 Bright Spot community for its responses to the COVID-19 crisis last year. Specifically, CLGR is highlighting communities that developed exemplary or innovative responses to the COVID crisis. In particular, the Campaign is recognizing communities like Roanoke for crafting solutions that seem especially effective, replication-worthy and/or deserving of being sustained during the post-COVID period.

“As soon as the pandemic set in, we realized that children were going to have a very difficult time and that their learning and development would suffer,” said Sheila Umberger, Director of the Roanoke Public Libraries. “Last March, our staff mobilized to immediately offer virtual early literacy opportunities for children. In June, we collaborated with Feeding Southwest Virginia to offer our Feed and Read program curbside so children could receive free, nutritious meals and early learning activities at the same time from the same place.”

The first week after Virginia’s shutdowns began, Roanoke Public Libraries staff began recording and posting virtual storytimes on the library system’s Facebook and Instagram pages, and on its YouTube channel. To date, more than 150 storytime and craft videos have been shared with Roanoke children.

“A key concern was that the financial impact of the pandemic would cause more local children to go hungry,” Umberger says. Once the Roanoke Public Libraries began curbside service in June 2020, its renowned Feed and Read program also resumed. To date, more than 60,000 meals have been safely served via curbside service since then. Numerous other Star City Reads partner organizations have also supported youth nutrition in Roanoke, including Roanoke City Public Schools, Kids Soar, and the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

The Roanoke Public Libraries has also continued helping children learn through distribution of learning kits. The Libraries have distributed more than 8,400 themed learning kits since the summer of 2020. Each kit contains a free book appropriate for the child’s reading level from birth through adolescence, as well as crafts the child can do with their family. Many Star City Reads partners have conducted similar pivots in order to support families during this time.

Launched in 2010, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort of funders, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities across the nation to ensure that many more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship. Since its launch, CGLR has grown to include more than 300 communities, representing 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and two provinces in Canada — with 5,000+ local organizations and 510 state and local funders (including 200+ United Ways). Star City Reads, Roanoke’s award-winning Campaign for Grade-Level Reading initiative, is led by the Roanoke Public Libraries. To learn more, visit http://gradelevelreading.net/ and www.starcityreads.org.

For more information, contact Sheila Umberger at (540) 853-2476 or sheila.umberger@roanokeva.gov.

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