BRADENTON -- A normally serene location, the third-floor of the newly renovated Manatee County Central Library shook Thursday with the vibration of more than 180 Rogers Garden Elementary School children singing: "Take me out to the ball game."
Students toured the library, signed up for library cards and checked out books before each grade took turns presenting to one another, parents and library staff members. The trip was funded by a grant through the Manatee Community Foundation.
Sitting in the front row and clamoring over their newly loaned library books, 5-year-old Hector Hernandez, 6-year-old Jarrel Johnson and 6-year-old Kimani Saint-Armand, all kindergarten students, eagerly awaited the baseball presentations from their fellow students.
"Baseball is a fun sport," Hector said, holding onto a book about dinosaurs who play baseball.
Jarrel said he was excited to have his new library card.
"We can get in the summer program," he said.
The grant is part of a pilot program designed to increase student literacy by using baseball to motivate children. Each grade level worked with teachers and other staff to prepare the presentations, which included poems created about baseball, a short skit and plenty of songs.
"We are paying particular attention to the programs that fit within the grade-level reading initiative," said Marilyn Howard, executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation.
The national initiative was picked up in Manatee County last year with the goal of having students reading on grade level by the third grade.
"This is amazing," said Jane Plitt, president of the Manatee Library Foundation. "They knew nothing about baseball before this."
Students also received free tickets to the Bradenton Marauders game May 31.
School Principal Latrina Singleton urged students and parents to take advantage of the library's summer programs. The school is going to start a summer-reading initiative this year as well, she said, and the goal is to help build reading endurance in the children.
"That's what's going to make them successful," she said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.