and Nikki Vellidis enjoy the "book nook" at Tifton City Hall.
It was a cool, clear November day in 2000 when more than 7,500 Tifton citizens
crammed themselves into the local football stadium. The Tiftonites were
not there to root for a football team, but to lift cheers for themselves.
They had good reason to cheer — In just four years the 39,000 folks of
Tifton and Tift County managed to read one million books and they can prove
a local citizen finished reading a book, a computer test was administered
and the reader had to pass to get credit for the accomplishment.
Credit totals were based on the book’s difficulty. Dr. Seuss might
|worth one point while the works
of Tolstoy (Tolstoy's War and Peace) carries 128 points. Tifton’s
claim of one million books read was based on the test totals.
job behind them, school kids and their parents marched into Tift County
Stadium and laid claim to another title — Reading Capital of the World.
No one has challenged that claim.
the happy product of an unusual marriage
between the City of Tifton and a local private foundation.
So what’s the big deal about a small town (Tifton population: 15,000) reading
a million books?
Well, the deal was so big Time devoted
a full page essay to Tifton’s passion for reading, and soon the network
news teams were in town to film segments for CBS and NBC. Billboards sprang
up along I-75 in South Georgia proclaiming Tifton as the “Reading Capital
of the World.” More importantly, school test scores are improving and teachers
say kids are understanding more of what they are taught.
All of this
could be the smartest marketing plan ever devised by a Georgia municipality
(How else could such a small town get a million dollars worth of favorable
national publicity?) or it could just be
with fourth-grade readers at Charles Spencer Elementary School.
years ago Tifton leaders took notice of the activities of the Tift County
Foundation for Educational Excellence, including its sponsorship of the
Accelerated Reader program. Accelerated Reader is a private education tool
sold by a private firm in Wisconsin. For local elected officials and economic
developers, education was a key to the creation of jobs. “We know that
business and industry need a healthy pool of educated and educateable workers,”
says Mayor Paul Johnson.
begins with the development of solid reading skills in our school children.”
With several agricultural and science experiment facilities, a two-year
college and the Rural Development Center, Tifton boasts of one of the highest
populations of PhDs in Georgia. “I’ll go further,” says Johnson. “I believe
we have the highest per capita PhD population in the nation.”
it seems, comes naturally to a large segment of Tifton’s citizenry. Leaders
like Johnson have other motives for improving reading skills. “Citizens
with good reading skills are better citizens,” he says. With the endorsement
of the mayor and city council, the Tift County Foundation for Educational
Excellence gets a number of contributions of city services. Fire trucks
are provided to carry kids in parades, and police are present at reading
events like a recent celebration in a city park.
read. The city is inviting America’s
First Reader, Laura Bush, to attend the ceremonies. While Tifton’s
reading virus began among its school kids, parents and grandparents have
become infected. Johnson was moved to reread (Gone With The Wind)
when the reading fever hit his town. “I’m reading some of the Harry Potter
stories now,” he says. “I want to understand what all the fuss is about.”
|One of Tifton's
educational highlights: old-time farming methods at the
City leaders take seriously their image as a reading capital. When a Florida-bound
tourist gave a Tifton motel clerk a friendly taunt about that image, city
leaders responded immediately.
“I see that
Tifton claims to be the Reading Capital of the World,” said the tourist.
come you don’t have any place for
me to read?” When news of the incident reached Mayor Johnson
and the council, they responded
by installing reading nooks in the lobby of the motel and at
City Hall. Today there are seven
reading nooks around the city. “We might be the only
municipality in the country that
installs reading nooks,” says Johnson. Tifton is already planning for next
year’s goal of two million books
holiday season, guests of Tifton families were startled to learn that local
youngsters were not watching The
Simpsons or Rugrats on TV, but instead were lying on the floor gazing
at a local cable channel where a video tape featured school kids reading
aloud from their favorite books.
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