Free book program boosts Middletown’s third-grade reading scores

Middletown area children who participate in a reading program are seeing “a pronounced difference” in literacy scores upon entering kindergarten, said T. Duane Gordon, executive director of the Middletown Community Foundation.

As the Middletown area affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library prepares to submit its monthly order that will pass 200,000 books delivered to local children, Gordon said the free book program has shown improvement in Middletown’s third grade reading scores.

The group looked at four years of data and saw that for each individual year, more children who had received Imagination Library books passed the third grade reading test than did from the children who were not part of the program prior to kindergarten, said Gordon, who oversees the program as part of the Foundation’s Ready! education initiative.

The test results spanned four consecutive third grade classes, he said. The first class, 2012, saw a nine percent difference between the two groups. The second class saw an 11 percent difference. The third class saw a six percent difference, and the fourth class saw a 14 percent difference, he said.

When all classes were combined, there were more than 1,000 children who had attended Middletown City Schools both for kindergarten and third grade, allowing the district to have data on whether or not they had participated in the program. Roughly 25 percent of the students had received books from the MCF.

The total of all classes combined saw 61 percent of those not in Imagination Library pass the third grade reading assessments, compared to 64 percent of those who were in Imagination Library.

Looking at the two highest levels of the five scoring bands on the test, “accelerated” and “advanced,” 52 percent of Imagination Library children scored in those two highest ranges, compared to 42 percent of children who were not in Imagination Library, Gordon said.

Brenda Herring, a mother of four children, is a big believer in the program. Her two oldest children, Clayton, 8, and Addyson, 7, received free books and her two youngest children, Bryson, 3, and Rylee, 14 months, are receiving books, she said.

She recently met with Clayton’s second-grade teacher at Monroe Elementary School and was told he tested at 99 percent in reading. She credited the Imagination Library program for her son’s success and believes her other three children will see similar results.

“This is all because he loves reading,” Herring said. “It started way back at the beginning. Reading is huge. Books are so important.”

Herring typically reads to her children twice a day, before their afternoon nap and before bedtime.

“It’s been a blessing,” she said of the program. “Reading has prepared them more for school.”

To participate in the program, a child must be under the age of 5 and reside within the Middletown, Monroe, Edgewood, Madison or Franklin school district boundaries. A different age-appropriate, expert-select book arrives in the child’s mailbox each month at no cost to participating families regardless of income. Parents may register using a paper form available from the MCT or online at

About 3,500 children, roughly half of the area’s population under 5, are enrolled in the program, which has served just under 10,000 local kids since inception in January 2008, Gordon said.

The 200,000 books that have been distributed to children have had a market value of about $1.75 million, Gordon said, but cost the MCF $430,000 to provide to local children thanks to the program’s partnership with the Dollywood Foundation.



WHAT: Let Imagination Bloom Chapter VIII

WHEN: 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. April 8

WHERE: Central Connections, 3907 Central Ave., Middletown

COST: $30. Reservation deadline is March 24. Call 513-424-7369.

WHAT'S HAPPENING: The event will feature a meet and greet with area children's authors, numerous raffle baskets, a live auction, a meal, and a keynote address by author, illustrator and designer Beth Gully. All proceeds benefit the Middletown-area affiliate of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, buying books for local children. Tax-deductible contributions may also be made to the Middletown Community Foundation for the program.

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