Happy ending: Dover Public Library concludes literacy program for young readers

By Leann Schenke
Posted 11/19/21

DOVER — With the goals of building a lifelong love of reading and creating space for family bonding, the Prime Time Family Reading program, offered at Dover Public Library, has wrapped up its successful first chapter.

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Happy ending: Dover Public Library concludes literacy program for young readers


DOVER — With the goals of building a lifelong love of reading and creating space for family bonding, the Prime Time Family Reading program, offered at Dover Public Library, has wrapped up its successful first chapter.

The project ran six weeks, starting in October and ending Thursday. Partially funded through a grant from Delaware Humanities, the literacy initiative was designed to engage about 20 families and their children, ages 6-10, in reading and discussion.

Each session was held after school, from 6-7:30 p.m. They began with hot meals and were followed by storytellers reading books. Guided discussions then ensued with “scholars” encouraging both children and their families to personally connect to that week’s literature.

For Susan Elizabeth Cordle, head of youth services at the library, the free program’s emphasis on encouraging reading comprehension by young learners is especially important.

Having herself struggled with reading when she was younger, she said programs like Prime Time are near and dear to her.

“If you had told me midway through high school that I would someday become a librarian, that I would be a champion for a literacy program, I would be like, ‘Yeah, no,’” she said Wednesday.

Ms. Cordle was able to receive support through her mother, who was a teacher. But Prime Time aims to help young readers who might not have trained professionals to help foster a love of reading outside of school.

“I support these programs now because I know what it’s like to struggle with reading,” she said. “To not have that confidence and to be that kid in school who, when I was called on to read, I refused. Now, when there’s programs like this, where it can help children gain that confidence, help them understand that reading is not the endgame — I want to champion those.”

Bringing Prime Time Family Reading to the library was a long time coming. Originally from Georgia, Ms. Cordle had the idea of implementing the program when she first began working at DPL in spring 2019.

The project itself was founded in 1991 and has been in place in Georgia since 1993. Ms. Cordle said that, when she was hired in Delaware, she was gearing up for her third year of Prime Time back there.

“I realized from my experience there and everything that Prime Time does, I know I wanted to bring it here,” she said.

Ms. Cordle said the library experienced several hurdles before the program could start, including leadership changes and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A little thing called a pandemic occurred,” she said.

With the library reopening to the public in March 2021, Ms. Cordle said the pieces finally came together for Prime Time to come to Dover. She thanked the city’s grant-writer, Lisa Chase, for being a “driving force” for funding.

Along with Delaware Humanities, Ms. Cordle said other financing sources were Believe in Reading and the Friends of Dover Public Library.

Prime Time offers a few different series of books. Ms. Cordle chose the “Favorites” series this time because she had taught it at her previous library.

Participants are given two books to read each week and then come to the session, where a scholar and storyteller facilitate discussions about them. Ms. Cordle said each book has a theme, like courage, bravery or dreams, to name a few. For the dreams theme, the books were “Fanny’s Dream” by Caralyn Buehner and “Hey, Al” by Arthur Yorinks.

The talks are meant to ask students to think outside the box, so for the dreams topic, Ms. Cordle said the students were encouraged to discuss their dreams, outside of potential careers.

And the discussions are not limited to the young readers, Ms. Cordle said. Parents, guardians or extended family members who bring children to Prime Time are encouraged to participate, as well.

“It’s nice that it’s not just a one-sided conversation,” she said.

Any person who brings a student to the program is asked to stay for its full length. While presence for all six weeks isn’t mandatory, Ms. Cordle said there was fairly consistent attendance from many families during the first run.

To help build the students’ personal libraries, Ms. Cordle said each was able to keep all the books they read.

For its first go-round, Prime Time was offered to students in the Capital School District only. Ms. Cordle said library staff reached out to the district and, with the help of guidance counselors, were able to identify students who might benefit.

Ms. Cordle said she saw a difference in the students’ comprehension of the books and more confidence in sharing their opinions, as well, over the course of the six weeks.

“You definitely can tell a difference from week one to now because of the conversations. The kids were much more reserved (at first),” she said. “It’s night and day from what it was ... to where we are now. They’re much more confident, willing to share. They’re much more open.”

She added that, as the students opened up, she was constantly impressed by the insights they had about the readings.

“It’s baffling,” she said. “They point out things you would never think of yourself. The answers they give are very insightful, and it’s awe-inspiring — 6-10 year olds, you wouldn’t think they have such insight, but they do.”

Because there is an interest in opening the program up to students in both the Capital and Caesar Rodney school districts, the plan for 2022 is to offer it to CR in the spring and Capital in the fall.

Ms. Cordle said the library is working with the districts now to create a waiting list for next year.

She called Prime Time a community effort where, at her previous library in pre-pandemic times, she would partner with local restaurants to offer meals. However, due to health and safety measures necessitated by COVID-19, she said businesses aren’t able to contribute food now.

Ms. Cordle did note that Dover City Council President Roy Sudler was able to grill twice during the initiative’s six weeks.

Additionally, Dover Police Department officers stopped by a session to help with readings.

“One of the things that I love about this program, too, is it’s not just a library and school program. It’s an emphasis on community programs,” Ms. Cordle said. “Its goal is to really build relationships with the community.”