Home News Local News TRAINING WHEELS PROGRAM ROLLS ON
TRAINING WHEELS PROGRAM ROLLS ON
By Bill Rautenstrauch
For the Observer
ENTERPRISE Think fast: What do worms, puppets, ants, songs, bones and books have in common?
Times up. Theyre all tools that can be used to touch, change and shape young minds, and help prepare them for the rigors of education.
Theyre learning tools used by Training Wheels, the early literacy outreach program that is the pride and joy of the Wallowa County Library. On an almost daily basis, the tools are loaded into a van and transported to libraries, day care centers, preschool classes, kindergartens and other places where insatiably curious youngsters gather.
Claudia Jones, Wallowa County librarian, in 1995 started the outreach program now considered a model for other counties to follow on a $4,000 grant from the countys Commission on Children and Families.
Things were much simpler in the beginning: she loaded stacks of books into an old police cruiser that was loaned to her by the county. She traveled to a few sites, passing the books out and holding read-aloud story hours.
There had been reading and story programs in the local libraries, but they werent very well attended, Jones recalled. My response was to start an outreach program. I was thinking, if the kids wont come to the programs, then Ill bring a program to the kids.
She formed an alliance with Susan Polumsky, a case resource and referral director for the local office of the Training and Employment Consortium.
Polumsky had many contacts with county child care providers, people with whom children were left when young parents were out working or seeking work. Those providers, some private, some public, became primary outlets for Jones fledgling program.
I really needed the connection. Susan knows the child care providers so well. In the first year, we were up to 17 providers, most of them day care centers, Jones said.
More grant money was forthcoming, this time from the Federal Library Services and Technology Act. A $32,000 grant in 1996 paid for a van, a copy machine, many more books, and puppets to be used for storytelling.
We started expanding on sites, going to Head Start, preschools, and other places, Jones said.
The next key player to enter the picture was Jo Ann Snead of Enterprise. A biologist by education, a musician by avocation and a lover of children by inclination, her talents quickly came to play a big role in the programs development.
In 1998, Snead took over as the Training Wheels storyteller and musician, developing a popular mix of songs, stories, puppet shows and games.
But she didnt stop there.
She added a science component to the program, designing, among other visual aids, a wormery so children can observe the making of compost, and an ant farm so they might see how ants live underground. Recently, she obtained from the Wallowa County Health Care District a full-length X-ray of a human skeleton. Children are fascinated with it, she says.
I have the program boxed up. I take it out to the schools and the kids gather around. I teach them about physics, plant life, insects, composting, recycling. I love seeing the lights come on in their heads, Snead said.
Snead, whose 25-hour-a-week position is funded through a Trust Management Services grant, covers much territory in Wallowa County, entertaining and teaching children in places as diverse as the county health department and the Safe Harbors domestic violence crisis center.
She holds a story hour for toddlers at the Enterprise Library Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., the Joseph Library on Fridays at 10:30, and the Wallowa Library on Wednesdays at 11 a.m.
Today, the Training Wheels program is recognized by the state library system as a model for early literacy outreach programs.
Jones and others involved with the local effort are helping the Umatilla County Special Library District implement a similar program. And in response to many inquiries from around the state, Training Wheels also has produced a handbook that details the program.
Book circulation and book giveaways remain key functions of the program.
Jones proudly notes that last December the program distributed more than 1,000 free books to Wallowa County children. The books were provided through a grant from First Book and National Book Bank.
Volunteers make the program go. Jones and Polumsky volunteer their time to provide grant administration and program development. When Sneads 25 hours are expended, she becomes a volunteer, too. The efforts of Kathy Wadsworth, who spends about 12 hours a month making hundreds of copies of the Training Wheels newsletter, are deeply appreciated, Jones said, as are contributions to the program by city librarians.
Those who give their time have no doubts about the importance of the program.
The providers and agency people we work with tell us they see wonderful differences in the kids. The kids love books, and they start school better prepared, Jones said.