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The Power of Local Innovation


Historic Glynn County, one of Georgia’s original eight counties, features Golden Isles on its south Atlantic coast. A local philanthropic group with a passion for literacy is making history golden again by focusing its funds and mobilizing the buy-in of schools and families to potentially raise reading rates to new heights here.                       .

In Glynn County, 36.1 percent of children in 2015 scored proficient and above on the new Georgia Milestones English Language Arts (ELA) assessment at the end of third grade, which is slightly below the Georgia rate of 36.9 percent.

Gary Burnett and Linda Pinion, a Glynn County husband and wife team, founded the UDA STAR Foundation in 2014 and launched the Mt. Readmore program as a way to give back by providing local schools with the technology and supplies they need to get students excited to read and ready to learn.

Mt. Readmore was largely inspired by the couple’s own reading habits—they both work in the tech industry and when traveling, rarely read old-fashioned paper books on the go. So when the program began, the foundation provided Kindles loaded with e-books, which local school media specialists requested. The first elementary schools to receive the Kindles offered them to fourth and fifth graders.

“In 2016, UDA STAR Foundation became a 501c3 nonprofit organization and can accept donations,” Burnett said. “Now others can participate in our mission by helping learners receive the basic tools they need to become better students and get ahead.”

To date, 114 Kindles have been donated to approximately 10 Glynn County schools and are loaded with more than 500 e-book titles that students in elementary, middle, and high schools can use at school or check out and take home.

The Kindles serve not only as electronic readers but also as research tools, such as digging deeper into a recent Holocaust research project, and even as an antidote to summer slide. Some students take the Kindles home for the summer to read a collection of books pre-selected by their school’s media specialist.

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“This program provides a vital introduction to reading and learning on an electronic device,” said Melissa Purcell, media specialist at Glynn Academy. We have students who have no experience with electronic books, so just by encouraging hands-on interactions with the Kindles helps the kids to overcome any intimidation they may  feel toward using new technology.”

When Burnett first approached Heather Marshall, media specialist at St. Simons Elementary, about the best way to integrate Kindles with a reading curriculum, they came up with a plan to engage students and make required reading fun. “Kids were challenged to read at least four out of six books in four weeks, and the response was tremendous,” said Marshall, who is pictured below leading fifth graders through a Kindle lesson.

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“The students who participated were enthusiastic and encouraged one another. Before Christmas holidays, the six Kindles circulated through more than 30 children with seven students reading all six books. After the fifth graders had a turn, we opened the project up to fourth graders because they were also excited about having a Kindle, and Gary purchased six more kindles. I changed the checkout procedures to encourage more participation and found even more students interested.”

UDA STAR also provided C.B. Greer Elementary in Brunswick with an iPad loaded with the Osmo application that uses interactive games to teach words and spelling. Its first use was in the media center before a move into a first-grade class to assist with spelling words. Another iPad, donated in April to C.B. Greer, is being used with hearing-impaired students while three more given to Altama Elementary are for teaching special-needs students. “We see great promise in the use of Osmo and iPads to assist children facing learning challenges as well as students who have not had a chance to work with technologies such as an iPad,” said Lori Jones, speech and language pathologist with Glynn County Schools.

Beyond technology, UDA STAR gives students other tools needed for success. Through the “Desk of my Own” project, the foundation has donated 107 desks to students who submitted essays to their principal explaining why they wanted to win a desk. The idea  is to ensure children have a quiet place to work at home—and not in front of the TV. The foundation also jumped in to help during Read Across Georgia month in March by giving a hardcover copy of Dr. Seuss’ “What Pet Should I Get?” to first-grade classes of three elementary schools.

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“For more than 30 years, Linda and I have worked for technology companies and have seen the impact of access to technology both in business and the community,” Burnett said. “We believe that the future depends on the bright minds being built today. For our community to grow and succeed, everyone needs to have access to the latest technologies to better prepare them to be digital citizens of the 21st century.”

Learn more about this innovative county-wide school project in partnership with the UDA STAR Foundation.

And to read for free on a tablet or computer all summer, log on to a free MYon reader account for all of Georgia.