Community Outreach: VSU Celebrates Opening of Valdosta LiteracyCenter

October 14, 2011

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

Community Outreach: VSU Celebrates Opening of Valdosta LiteracyCenter


"Research shows that children who read well in the early grades are far more successful in later years and those who fall behind often stay behind when it comes to academic achievement. Reading opens the door to learning about math, history, science, literature, geography, and much more. Thus, young, capable readers can succeed in these subjects, take advantage of other opportunities (such as reading for pleasure), and develop confidence in their own abilities. On the other hand, those students who cannot read well are much more likely to drop out of school and be limited to low-paying jobs throughout their lives. Reading is undeniably critical to success in today's society." -- U.S. Department of Education.

VALDOSTA -- Rachael Wilkerson credits Valdosta State University with helping her 8-year-old daughter Mirycle develop a real enthusiasm for learning. The J.L. Lomax Elementary School second grader has improved her reading ability and plans to now seek extra help in mathematics.

And she is doing it all through the Valdosta Literacy Center, which is located at VSU’s Dewar College of Education.

The Wilkersons joined VSU Thursday afternoon in celebrating the grand opening of the new Valdosta Literacy Center. The college was buzzing as faculty, staff, students, and community families gathered to hear all that the center has to offer now and all that the center plans to offer in the near future.

“We are seeing the benefits,” Rachael Wilkerson said, adding that her daughter’s reading level has already improved.

The Valdosta Literacy Center’s mission is to be an integrated system of care for the children and families of Valdosta and surrounding areas with a focus on building children’s literacy skills, motivation, and confidence. The center serves children in grades kindergarten through five, but programs are currently being developed for middle school and high school students, said Dr. Gina Doepker, center director and a professor in the Department of Early Childhood and Special Education.

The Valdosta Literacy Center was formerly known as the Literacy Place Reading Clinic, which provided tutoring services to community children in the elementary grades, Doepker said. When she was named director of the clinic, Doepker said she immediately “began building what I know will be a great community resource for the children and families. I renamed it the Valdosta Literacy Center to give the community families of Valdosta ownership of this center. I have big plans for this center that will benefit the community children, families, and VSU.”

The Valdosta Literacy Center offers several programs designed to help children in the elementary grades build literacy skills, gain confidence, and be more motivated to want to read for both pleasure and study. Doepker said community children have been participating in the programs since Sept. 12.

• Literacy Education Assessment Program (LEAP): This is a literacy tutoring program that involves VSU pre-service teachers assessing the community children’s current literacy skills, developing specific literacy goals, providing one-on-one research-based literacy instruction and intervention, and monitoring the children’s literacy development progress.

• Blazing Through Books Program: This feeder program for LEAP pairs VSU athletes and students with community children in one-on-one and small group literacy skill-building activities, such as reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

• Multidisciplinary Child Advocacy Team (M-CAT): Through this program, any and all departments at VSU, as well as interested community organizations, provide identified services for the community children and families, such as comprehensive assessments, health screenings, family support and therapy, content area tutoring, shadowing opportunities, adult literacy, and much more.

• Dear Blazer Buddy: This is a pen pal program that pairs community children with VSU athletes and students. It is designed to get the children involved in a reading and writing activity that is fun and motivating.

• Blazer Books Television Series: This is a developing program that gives all VSU faculty, staff, and students, as well as area public schools, organizations, and others the opportunity to read and/or recommend their favorite childhood book on camera.

“I do have plans to recruit retired teachers and out-of-work teachers to help as well,” Doepker said, adding that she does not plan to limit the number of children the Valdosta Literacy Center assists “if I do not have to have a limit.”

Already thinking ahead to the future, Doepker said, “We are developing a family literacy program that will include a parent education series as well as a preschool literacy program. The parent education series and child health screenings are being planned for future semesters. A website for the Valdosta Literacy Center is being constructed.”

VSU has had some sort of literacy outreach initiative since 1989. However, having a series of programs like those now offered at the Valdosta Literacy Center has been a dream for more than two decades, said Dr. Karla Hull, interim dean of the Dewar College of Education.

“Literacy changes lives,” she said.

According to the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, approximately 10 million children in the United States have difficulty reading. Of these children, 10 to 15 percent eventually drop out of high school and only two percent complete a four-year college degree.

Dr. Louis Levy, interim VSU president, said the Valdosta Literacy Center will serve as a model for improving literacy levels throughout the region.

“Valdosta State University is proud to be part of the solution to a national problem,” he said.

For more information, please contact Dr. Gina M. Doepker, Valdosta Literacy Center director and professor in VSU’s Department of Early Childhood and Special Education, at (229) 333-5625 or