Literacy on the Lawn Event Brings More Than Books to Families in Seminole County

Seminole County Family Connection brings students and their families together every year with a game night at Seminole County Elementary School. The event was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Collaborative was determined to bring it back in 2021.

“We wanted to reach all our goals, even if we had to think outside the box and step outside our comfort zone with logistics and planning,” said Billie McLendon, Seminole County Family Connection coordinator. “Through the planning process, we designed Literacy on the Lawn.”

The venue location for the March event shifted from the school lunchroom to outdoors to help ensure physical distancing. Participants sat with their own families, and masks were encouraged but not required—following the same protocol established by the school system at that time.

“Literacy on the Lawn combined all the things our family loves to do together—read books, play games, and spend time together outdoors with our neighbors and friends,” said Erin Lenz, a Seminole County Elementary School parent. “We enjoyed meeting representatives from local organizations, and my children loved winning board games and books from playing Bingo. Any time there’s a way to build enthusiasm and fun around reading, we love to get involved. Family Connection is such a wonderful resource in our community for these family events, and truly a bright spot during the pandemic.”

Partners including Southwest Georgia Court Appointed Special Advocates, Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia, Golden Triangle RC&D, Spring Creek Health Cooperative, Seminole County Head Start, Georgia Recovery Project, Donalsonville Fire Department, Friendship House of Jesus, University of Georgia Extension Office, Seminole County Middle School Art Club, Ameris Bank, and First Port City Bank set up booths to promote local resources.

“We strive to participate with organizations like Family Connection that support our rural community,” said Chuck Orrick, hospital administrator at Donalsonville Hospital. “Family Connection reaches even the smallest members of our county and we are proud to be involved, especially during these times that challenge togetherness. An educated and literate community leads to a healthier overall county—and that is exactly what Donalsonville Hospital is striving to achieve.”

Seminole County is a Get Georgia Reading Campaign community, and the Collaborative has focused on working with the schools and other partners to improve third-grade reading proficiency for the past 15 years. However, students spending extended time away from school due to Hurricane Michael in 2018 and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 had a substantial impact on students’ standardized test scores.

“Scores were on the rise, but due to these barriers we unfortunately have seen our scores decline,” said McLendon, who noted that the school system is exploring a new reading curriculum to help students improve. “Our mission is to help improve the quality of life for children and their families through the power of literacy, and our goal is to help improve reading skills so that all third graders are reading on grade level. Research shows that a major literacy leap happens in homes with more than 80 books, so, we give families the opportunities to get free resources.”

Each child that participated in the game night received a book, and families played Bingo to win even more books to take home. The 230 participants were also entered into door prize drawings that included gift cards and games to encourage family time at home.

“At the end of the day, families took an evening out of their busy schedules to just enjoy each other—and we were able to put books in the hands of children to take home,” said McLendon. “Also, parents didn’t have to worry about going home to cook, so that alone for me as a mom is a win.”