With a three-stop tour of Garden City’s multi-tiered approach to emphasize children’s literacy, representatives from state and local entities celebrated Kansas Reading Roadmap’s first Rural Literacy Day.

The day had several missions: highlight groups emphasizing local literacy, hear community needs and spread information about the Kansas Health Foundation's Can’t Wait to Read Campaign and the Kansas State Department of Education’s preschool development grant.

“Garden City is a great community to showcase because early literacy really does require a community approach, and because Garden City works so well together and there’s all these different business, school and community partners collaborating, it is a great place to do this,” said Andrew Hysell, executive director of KRR.

Members of KRR, the Kansas Health Foundation, Garden City USD 457, the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce and Tyson Fresh Meats visited the Finney County Public Library, Russell Child Development Center and Buffalo Jones Elementary School.

The library’s Wee Readers program, a weekly read aloud for children 0 to 3 years old, Russell Child’s early childhood programming and Buffalo Jones’ bilingual curriculum — native-Spanish-speaking kindergartners and first-graders at the school build an academic foundation in Spanish before moving to all-English classes in higher grades — all introduce literacy to young children in different ways, Hysell and Buffalo Jones Principal Rafaela Solis said.

They start reading early, bring the practice into the home and give students the tools they need to succeed, regardless of their circumstances.

It gives students a solid foundation, and it places them on a more even playing field with their peers, Solis said.

All the programs demonstrate a key takeaway of Rural Literacy Day, Hysell said: collaboration.

“They develop very specific programs that work in rural areas. And I think that’s something that can really be a great example for other rural communities. They could replicate that. They could learn from it. I feel like a lot of people are paying attention to Garden City these days, and it’s good. Because it creates a lot of hope…” Hysell said.

And that collaboration can extend to businesses, Hysell said. Tyson has partnered with schools in Garden City, Holcomb, Deerfield and Lakin to cater and sponsor school events, said Pat Sanders, Tyson community liaison. Lately, the company has provided beef for all of the KRR Literacy Integrated Family Engagement, or LIFE, program’s events, she said.

Supporting a program that supports kids’ education and strengthens families builds a better town and a better environment in which children can grow up, Sanders said. As the company, the largest employer in the county, highlighted in a video at the Buffalo Jones stop, the company, schools and wider community “share the same families.”

Businesses partnering with local organizations to draw the community together, to invite newcomers or outsiders in, helps people feel more connected, said Janene Radke, vice president of the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce.

All of the efforts paint a picture of a community fighting back against barriers to literacy and children’s academic success in rural communities, like poverty or language, Hysell said.

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.