NEWPORT—Cocke County’s Save the Children program recently received a Visionary Award from the Tennessee Public Health Association. The award recognizes individuals or groups who dedicate their time, talents and efforts to create a healthier community in which Tennesseans can live, work, and play.
Matthew McConaughey, Public Health Educator with the Cocke County Health Department, nominated the local program for the award.
In his nomination, McConaughey wrote, “The program has increased the access to books and is helping to combat generational issues with ACES. By teaching parents of all ages the importance of reading and interacting with their youth, it is also helping to improve literacy levels.
“(As a result) a child will have a better opportunity to grow up and achieve higher goals, as well as be more health conscious and health literate. This will also help to prevent the recurrence of generational poverty and provide a process to improve the overall wellbeing of the community.”
Crystal Chambers, Community Engagement Coordinator for the local Save the Children program, accepted the award.
Chambers explained her role is to work within the community to spread awareness of the Save the Children programs.
“We have Early Steps, Journey of Hope, after school programs, and Kindergarten Readiness, among others,” Chambers said.
Stating that Kindergarten Readiness is “probably the main focus,” Chambers pointed out, “A huge percentage of children are not ready for kindergarten when they go. Today there are state standards detailing what kids have to know before they arrive in kindergarten. These include knowing and recognizing their letters and numbers. I had one kindergartener tearfully ask me, ‘How can I teach them algebra if they don’t know their numbers?’”
Chambers added, “With so many grandparents raising kids today, they often don’t have the energy to teach children their letters and numbers. Many just don’t know what kids need to know before they enter kindergarten.”
Acknowledging that there are Pre-K classes at Smoky Mountain, Edgemont, and Northwest Elementary Schools, as well as Newport Grammar School, Chambers said, “Some churches also have pre-K programs, but some people just can’t afford to send their children there. Lots of kids find pre-K unavailable.”
And that’s where Save the Children and Chambers come in.
“In our Kindergarten Readiness program,” she said, “we work with businesses to put books into the hands of these children and their families. We do reading events to promote readiness. Newport Pediatrics, Rural Medical, and the Cocke County Health Department are just some of the places that help us distribute books. We also put them in laundromats, Helen Ross McNabb, and some beauty shops: anywhere there are kids.”
The books are displayed in these locations and if a child wants to take a book home and keep it, he/she may. “If a place needs more books, they just let us know and we replenish the supply. The books are free.”
Chambers also speaks to civic clubs about her work. “We also host events at local libraries, have a Reading Festival, and work hand-in-hand with Early Step people in their parent-child groups. Any activities that will help prepare a child for kindergarten.”
Save the Children also helps educate parents about the need to adhere to CDC vaccination schedules and reduce the number of children who have not received vaccinations. Healthy meals are also provided automatically by the schools through the free breakfasts and free and reduced lunch programs.
“One of the big problems,” Chambers said, “is the fact that Tennessee does not require any standardized test for kindergarten readiness, such as the Brigance Test. Some teachers have developed their own tests but they are not standardized. Newport Grammar School administers the Brigance Test, but they pay for it.”
Funding for the efforts comes from Save the Children, which came to Cocke County in 2008. Since then hundreds of thousands of dollars have been provided to help local children and programs.