Local Churches in Wilkinson County Collaborate on Youth Book Club Program

There’s little doubt that the Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book. Every Sunday, children of all ages study stories found in the Bible at their local churches. Thanks to Wilkinson County Family Connection, faith leaders are taking this learning opportunity one step further by intentionally working to improve literacy and foster a love of reading in the county’s youth.

According to the Georgia Milestones English Language Arts assessment, only 22 percent of third graders scored at the proficient level. This staggering statistic prompted the Collaborative to brainstorm strategies for supporting young readers. The Collaborative’s Coordinator Dianne Orr suggested starting up a youth book club program—and asking all of the local churches to participate.

In Jan. 2016, Orr contacted area pastors to explain the Collaborative’s plan to reach as many youth as possible. The club’s first meeting was held just two months later. Eight churches currently host book clubs with members that span kindergarten through 11th grade.

Beverly Clark, the Collaborative’s secretary and book club coordinator, selects and sends a story to the churches on a quarterly basis. The book club leaders emphasize vocabulary and reading comprehension as the groups study Bible stories like Joseph and his Coat of Many Colors, David and Goliath, Jonah and the Whale, and the Birth of Jesus.

At the end of each reading period, all of the individual book clubs come together at the historic nondenominational Union Church in Irwinton to share presentations they have planned. “It might be an interpretive dance, a poem—anything the children want to do,” explained Orr.

From performing short plays and skits, to singing, to leading Q&A sessions, the children have the opportunity to creatively express what they’ve learned from the story. The event culminates in a drawing for a Kindle Fire in which all participating children are eligible.

“Through this program, the children get to practice reading, which improves their vocabulary and comprehension skills,” said Orr. “They get to practice public speaking, which will be an asset throughout life. They also work together in groups, especially making backdrops and scenery for the plays, which builds social skills.”

Word of mouth has helped increase participation in the book clubs over time, according to Orr, along with publishing reminders about upcoming meetings in the county newspaper.

Much of the program’s success can be attributed to the program’s organizers who share a passion for literacy, such as the Collaborative’s Treasurer Doris Walker, who co-leads one of the youth book clubs at Mount Brundage Church in McIntyre.

“When I decided to head up a youth club at my own church, I thought I would simply let the children read out loud,” said Orr. “Oh, no. As an educator who’s worked with children for many years, Doris wasn’t about to let me or the children miss out on this opportunity. She told me how they cover vocabulary with their participating children and much more. She made my experience so much more uplifting.”

When it comes to the Collaborative’s goals for the future, Walker said it best: “Let us all work together now to enhance the future of our youth.”