Rally Jacksonville Transcript
As the Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, John Peyton launched a pre-kindergarten literacy program that is remarkable in its scope, its accomplishments, and its support throughout the city. The program is called Rally Jacksonville, and it has quickly become a national model for how to bring children and books together. The mission of the program is, according to its mission statement, “to make literacy a core value in Jacksonville.” In order to do that, the Mayor has sought to build, through a network of community organizations, a new kind of constituency — one that holds “literacy as a core value” in its homes. A literate community, the Mayor argues, is one that will ultimately prosper. But how does one begin to do that? The Mayor believes that this kind of transformation can begin at home, in families, and with young children and their parents and with books.
Here’s how it works: Every four year old child in the city is eligible to receive a nifty back-pack, filled with cool stuff — art supplies, a plush toy, a blanket, and a book. The back pack and everything inside it is made possible through donations from area corporations and businesses and from a wide variety of community organizations, including the foundation sponsored by the Jaguars, Jacksonville’s professional football team. The books that are included in the backpacks are all by area writers and artists, and they have a local focus. They’re about Jacksonville’s museums and zoo, beaches and bridges, its city history and “city helpers”– like fire-fighters, police officers, and emergency rescue workers. If a child joins the book club, as over 8,000 four year olds do each year, she or he receives a dozen books free throughout the year. The idea, of course, is that parents, grandparents, older siblings, teachers, and care-givers will all read these books with the pre-schoolers, and, in the process, they’ll be learning something about the city, too.
One of the happy effects of the program is that the city has had to make provisions for additional parking and signs to indicate the sights (like the bridges across the St. John’s River) that the children now wish to visit with their parents, after having read about them together in The Bridges of Jacksonville. There are any number of ways that members of the community can become involved in the Mayor’s Literacy Initiative; through book drives (organizations have collected nearly three quarters of a million books for Jacksonville elementary schools); through volunteering to work at child care centers in neighborhoods throughout the city; and, of course, through donations to and sponsorship of literacy related events. And Mayor Peyton is providing the kind of leadership by example that a city needs for this kind of effort: every weekend you can find him on local television, hosting a program for pre-schoolers about books and reading. He tells me that it’s the single most pleasurable things that he gets to do as mayor.