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By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A West Philadelphia children’s literacy advocacy group today reopened the library at the Edward Heston Elementary School.

The organization is tackling the literacy problem in West Philadelphia one library at a time.

“We really, really wanted to get a full range of participation with the library,” says Heston principal Icilyn Wilson-Greene.  She says it’s been years since the school has been fully open for children to come in and check out books.

“With the budget cuts and our lack of opportunity to get someone full-time to work here, it was only open on a limited basis for children to come in,” she tells KYW Newsradio.

David Florig, executive director of the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (“WePAC”), says his organization has stepped up by donating books to the Heston School and providing provide volunteers to man the library and read to students two days a week.

Florig (below right) says ensuring student access to books is critical in the early years:

wepac florig photo A West Philadelphia Public School Gets a Better Library, Thanks To Literacy Group

(David Florig of WePAC. Credit: Cherri Gregg)

“There are numerous studies demonstrating that if you know a child’s reading scores at the end of third grade, you can pretty much predict whether they’ll graduate high school.”

Florig says WePAC has opened libraries at 12 schools in West and Southwest Philadelphia, donating more than 33,000 books.

Lauren Dodington, chair of WePAC’s board, says their goal is to provide young students with equal access to books.

“With our suburban neighbors, every student has access to a library in their school,” she notes.  “What WePAC does is provide that same opportunity — that opportunity for kids to fall in love with reading, for kids to explore things that they might not learn about in class, and to dream big.”

Both Florig and Dodington say that many of the children at the schools in West and Southwest Philadelphia do not have regular access to books at home or at public libraries.

“We’ve surveyed students at other schools and 40 percent say that the library that WePAC is running in the school is the only library they use,” Florig notes.

For more information on WePAC, go to www.wepac.org.

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