Award goes to Parton for her work in early childhood literacy
The National Education Association (NEA) has named Dolly Parton the recipient of 2022 Friend of Education Award due to her Imagination Library that supports childhood literacy. Imagination Library, which launched in 1996, is dedicated to inspiring a love of reading by gifting books free of charge to children from birth to age five, through funding shared by Parton and local community partners in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and the Republic of Ireland.
“Dolly Parton is a national treasure, and America’s educators are proud to bestow NEA’s highest honor, the Friend of Education Award, upon her,” shares NEA President Becky Pringle. “In addition to bringing incalculable joy, with a smile like a breath of spring and a soft voice like summer rain, to fans across the world, she has championed literacy, learning and diversity in literature for nearly half a century. In distributing more than two million books each month, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has poured a cup of ambition for millions of young children. She knows that in tough times we rely on each other, as demonstrated by her support for wildlife conservation, wildfire relief, and her contribution toward COVID-19 vaccine development which has saved millions of lives worldwide. Educators will always love Dolly, and I am personally honored to name her 2022’s Friend of Education.”
The NEA Friend of Education Award is presented during the Representative Assembly in Chicago and recognizes a person or organization whose leadership and acts or support have significantly contributed to the improvement of American public education.
In a video thank you to the NEA delegates gathered in Chicago, Parton said she knows how hard educators work to help every student succeed.
“I’m working to do my part as well,” Parton shares. “My foundation offers college scholarships for local high school students and my theme park Dollywood is covering college tuition and expenses for employees.”
But Parton says she is most excited about her Imagination Library, now gifting over two million books each month to inspire a love of reading in children from birth to age five. Parton started the library in honor of her father who never had the opportunity to learn to read and write.
“He saw the program really growing and told me he was prouder of that than of just about anything else I’d ever done,” Parton adds. “Together, let’s continue to inspire kids to dream more, care more, learn more, and therefore, be more.”
In one of her first efforts, the Buddy Program, Parton gave $500 to every seventh and eighth-grader who finished high school in her home community of Sevier County, Tennessee. However, there was one additional requirement: each student’s Buddy must graduate as well and they had to sign a contract pledging to do everything they could to make sure both graduated. Through the Buddy Program, Sevier County’s dropout rate decreased from over 30 percent to just six percent. From there, the Dollywood Foundation has expanded into other great works, including the Imagination Library.