It's said that nothing in life is free, but 134 South Routt youngsters would disagree.
Everything was free Thursday night at the South Routt Literacy Carnival, where elementary students and their families arrived en masse to take advantage of literacy-based games and activities and a cafeteria full of free, new children's books.
"It's just a fun, free, family evening," Literacy Carnival organizer and South Routt Elementary School teacher Gay Linke said. "It's about giving a chance for people to give back and volunteer as well as to give to the kids."
The carnival relies on the goodwill and contributions of businesses, clubs and individuals from across Routt County, Linke said.
Three foundation grants and local donations ranging from $10 to $500 combined to total $2,700 for funding the second annual Literacy Carnival. The money was almost exclusively used to purchase the more than 1,200 new books that lined several cafeteria tables at the school.
Residents including Yampa resident Kathy Krey volunteered their time Thursday night to operate the multitude of games and literacy booths set up in the school gymnasium.
Krey hasn't had a child of her own in elementary school for nearly a decade, but she was more than happy to spend some time with South Routt's youngest learners.
"It's so neat to see their little brains working," said Krey, who represented Yampa Bible Church at a "fishing pond," where kids used magnets to catch paper fish with words or letters printed on them. Depending on the student's grade level, he or she had to say the word or form a phrase or sentence with multiple words.
"They concentrate so hard," Krey said.
In addition to word fishing, students participated in games such as golf, a remote-controlled car driving course, Twister, "Chic-Tac-Toe," bowling and bean bag toss. All games involved reading or writing, and completion of an event allowed each child to collect a new book. Kids also earned prizes such as pens, pencils and notepads after completing each game.
Moffat County's Literacy Carnival sparked Linke's interest in bringing a similar program to South Routt. Linke, with the help of other staff members, expanded the carnival idea and hopes it will continue to be successful for many years. However, she admits it's difficult to plan for the future when the event relies solely on the donations and contributions of others.
But the reaction of parents and students gives school officials hope for the future of the Literacy Carnival.
"Parents were just so amazed we could pull this off and their kids could get free books," Linke said. "And they saw how excited their kids were about reading."
The Literacy Carnival is one of several literacy-based programs the school has implemented under Principal Troy Zabel. Test results are proving those programs' worth, Zabel said.
"Our reading scores have just been climbing every year," he said.
Most importantly, the reading programs are rubbing off on students such as third-grader Gordon McElroy, who spent much of Thursday evening perusing the 1,200 books.
"It's cool because we got to get books and stuff," McElroy said.
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