During breakfast every Wednesday, Pre-K students at Rincon Elementary welcome volunteer readers from South Effingham High School. Rylee Kirk, a senior at SEHS, leads the Pre-K Literacy Project.
Kirk is actively involved in the National Honor Society and is also an ambassador in Girl Scout Troop 30519. She created the project to earn a Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve.
“Everyone knows about the Eagle Scout service project,” Kirk said, “while not too many know about the Gold Award. It is a ‘take-action’ community service project. You must identify a need or problem in your community and devise a plan/project to correct or solve the problem. The project must be created by an individual, must be sustainable, and the guidelines recommend approximately 80 hours of work to attain your goal. Girl Scouts do so much more than cookies.”
When asked what inspired her to organize this program, Kirk revealed how she developed a passion for reading and why she wanted to share it with as many students as possible.
“When I was little my parents read to me, which really encouraged me to read,” she said. “I was fortunate enough to have access to books at home and I saw my older siblings reading. I wanted to inspire other children to read. I was speaking to my neighbor, Marcy Welch, a school teacher at RES, and found out that many students do not have access to books in their homes. That was how I decided I wanted my project to be about literacy and weekend books.”
Once Kirk decided she wanted to put her program into action at RES, she was able to meet with Jan Davis, ECSD’s lead resource coordinator for Pre-K. Davis was “extremely supportive and enthusiastic” about the project and provided Kirk with information about Ashley Kieffer’s logistics class as well as a book supplying program at the Effingham College and Career Academy.
At the time, Kieffer’s class was working with FirstBooks, the company that contributes reading materials for Kirk’s project.
“Mr. Kieffer’s class helps FirstBooks with their distribution and in return, FirstBooks donates a portion of the books to our county,” Kirk said. “I thought Mr. Kieffer was donating ‘some’ books to my Pre-K lending library until I arrived at the warehouse. I went through the books and found the ones that I thought were appropriate for Pre-K. He explained that he was giving me books for the students to keep. We completely loaded my mother’s car with 700 books.”
Kieffer has since become the principal of ECCA, and Rylee now works with David Wilson when selecting books. Since the start of the school year, five hundred books have been given to preschool students, and Kirk has since collected another seven hundred books to continue her program.
Because of Kirk, Pre-K students at RES are beginning their own personal libraries and developing a new enthusiasm for literature. Teachers at Rincon Elementary agree that their students look forward to the weekly story times. LaShunda Posey believes her students look up to the visiting high school students.
“I think the students view Rylee as a mentor,” Posey said. “They are very respectful when she’s reading and seem to enjoy the stories read. She has set great examples of being a leader.”
Through this program, Kirk has sharpened her leadership skills, demonstrated consistent punctuality, and reached new heights of perseverance and patience. Those who have been in contact with Kirk are continually impressed with her professionalism and are inspired by her efforts to better her community. Davis works closely with Kirk and recognizes her admirable qualities.
“Rylee met a few roadblocks in getting administrative attention at first,” she said. “She was patient and flexible as she tried a few different tactics until she had success. Rylee has been prompt and professional in her communications, meetings, performance. She is open to suggestions for improvements and willing to hear other participants’ point of view.
“Her enthusiasm seems to be contagious as she recruits other NHS students to join in and read to students!”
Even though she is now officially Golden, Kirk remains humble and stated that she couldn’t have accomplished her goal without support from parents, teachers, and administrators.
“I could not have done this without the help of several awesome people,” she said, “including my mum, the NHS director at SEHS Mrs. Crapse, Mrs. Jan Davis, Mrs. Welch, Mr. Kieffer and Mr. Wilson, and Dr. Winters, who encouraged me to have the NHS members read on a weekly basis to keep the Pre-K students excited about Wednesdays.”