SOAR: Early Childhood Education

Soar LogoThe Foundation has recognized the critical need for early childhood education by committing over $2 million to date in support of programs across Muhlenberg County which strive to help each child arrive at kindergarten ready to learn.  The SOAR program is focused on providing strategies, opportunities, advantages and resources for pre-school aged children and their families in Muhlenberg County, with a focus on early childhood literacy and kindergarten readiness. SOAR both hosts and supports over 30 community events each year and provides support and programs for local providers including Head Start, preschool and daycare programs. Based on research showing a dramatic correlation between the number of books in the home and future academic achievement, the Foundation and SOAR have placed a special emphasis on literacy, giving away over 260,000 books to children in Muhlenberg County over the past 10 years. SOAR has also implemented many County-wide educational programs for children, some of which are highlighted below. SOAR is a program of the Felix E. Martin Jr. Foundation in partnership with the Muhlenberg County Board of Education.

Based on national research, the Foundation believes that kids who start kindergarten with the skills they need to be successful in school, will be more likely to stay at grade level through their school years.  In order to support our youngest learners, the Foundation offers several programs which seek to increase the number of Muhlenberg children who are "ready" to start kindergarten. 

The Ready! for Kindergarten program is available at no charge to all families who have a child starting kindergarten in Muhlenberg in the fall. Each family attends three classes over the course the Pre-K year which teach age-appropriate targets to the parents and caregivers of pre-school children. The families receive learning toys and tools at each session. Along with these toys, the families are taught about desired learning goals and how to “play with a purpose.” In recent years, partnerships with the HANDS and First Steps programs and Pathway of Hope have made the program available for Muhlenberg families with children from 1 – 5 years old.

New in summer 2019, in partnership with Muhlenberg County Schools, SOAR hosted a free one-week Kindergarten Camp open to all children started kindergarten in Muhlenberg County in fall 2019. The camp, led by certified teachers, not only gave campers a taste of what to expect in kindergarten, but will also gave students an opportunity to hone skills they need to start kindergarten on track for success.

Kindergarten teachers also partner with the Foundation to provide K-Day, a day for students about to start kindergarten to become familiar with their new  schools.  Children are invited to tour their classrooms, meet their teachers, eat lunch in the cafeteria, and even ride the bus—eliminating much of the fear of the first day, and allowing students to start school excited and ready to learn.

Reading programs play a key role in SOAR’s mission to increase literacy skills across Muhlenberg County.  The Books ’n Cream summer reading program provides a weekly reading event for families at three locations each summer.  Participating children receive a free book and a coupon for ice cream every week after reading the featured book of the week.  They are also invited to play at learning centers while attneding.   Each summer ends with a celebration of reading with free books, ice cream, games and special giveaways.  All year long, SOAR partners with the local library to support the READ 15 initiative, encouragaing parents to read aloud with their children at least 15 minutes each day.

Dolly Parton Imagination Library LogoThe Foundation continues to partner with the Muhlenberg County Public Libraries to bring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to the children of Muhlenberg County.  Since 2009, the Imagination Library program has distributed over 85,000 books to Muhlenberg County children under 5 years old.  Each month, registered children receive a brand new, age-appropriate book in the mail at no cost to the child or his/her family, creating a home library of up to 60 books for children who are registered at birth.  The books instill a love of books and reading from the start of a child’s life, and guarantee that every child will have books, regardless of their family’s income.   

The Mayor’s Reading Club and Rotary Reads programs invite local mayors and Rotary Club members to visit all five elementary schools as well as several daycares to read to students. Local mayors will visit their neighborhood school up to three times each year and will read a book to a preschool or kindergarten classroom. Rotary members schedule visits to read to 2nd graders throughout the County.  

The Reading Posse, which provides free children’s books to be given out from all local law enforcement vehicles, was originally created to allow First Responders an opportunity to combat illiteracy in our communities while fostering a positive relationship with local community members in many of the most remote and poverty stricken areas of the county. It has been so successful that the program has expanded to offer the service from EMS vehicles, school buses and even dentists and barber shops.

SOAR also partners with the Reach Out and Read program to bring literacy into doctors offices.  In partnership with this national program, most local clinics and doctor’s offices advise Muhlenberg children and their families about the importance of reading and early childhood literacy at each pediatric visit. Children receive a free book and a "prescription to read" at each visit.  Also in partnership with local pedidatricians, SOAR provides the families of newborn Muhlenberg County children with a New Baby Literacy Packet, encouraging reading from Day 1 of a child’s life. Each packet includes items encouraging families to begin reading to their newborns. These include a parenting book, baby books, and a library card as well as bibs, rattles, and a rubber duck all featuring literacy messages.

SOAR hosts or participates in over 30 Community Events each year, which help promote early childhood literacy throughout the county, while distributing books and early childhood education information to Muhlenberg County Families. SOAR also provides opportunities for community children to read when not attending events, by providing and stocking 13 Little Free Libraries thoughout the County, as well as Community Bookshelves in watiting areas across the County, encouraging families to read while they wait.

For more detailed information on programs offered through SOAR, please download the Foundation's 2016 Report to the Community which focuses on the impact of SOAR and programs offered in 2015-2016.