Elodie Reed, St. Albans Messenger
SHELDON — “Do you guys like to read?” was the question Waterbury-based Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF) executive director Duncan McDougall asked Sheldon Elementary students Thursday afternoon.
About 60 children shouted a deafening “yeah!”
Good thing, too, since McDougall brought a whole lot of books with him on his visit to Sheldon. He told his young audience he squeezed $4,000 worth of books into his red Toyota Prius – enough, in fact, to give every student one to bring home.
“And I get to go home with a lot better gas mileage,” McDougall told the students.
McDougall, along with CLiF program director Meredith Scott, was in Sheldon yesterday to kick off the “Year of the Book” campaign, a $25,000 grant for books and literacy-related activities that the school won for the 2014-2015 school year. Lyn Lauffer, the school’s librarian of 14 years, applied for the grant three times before securing it for Sheldon Elementary School in the spring of last year.
Lauffer said during an interview in April that in addition to the school meeting the minimum standards for the grant – being located in Vermont or New Hampshire with at least 30 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, at least 25 percent of its students scoring below proficient on the NECAP reading and writing tests, and it having a specific, school-wide, literacy-related goal for the year – the school most likely won the grant because it puts a special emphasis on literacy with its teachers, assignments, and relationship to the local public library.
Sheldon is one of eight schools in New Hampshire and Vermont that received the funding for this school year. All of these grants, totaling $3.5 million over the program’s four years, are solely made up of donations and community support.
This year, McDougall said the Oakland Foundation and the family of Jamie Kanzler made the “Year of the Book” grants possible.
The benefits of Sheldon Elementary School winning the grant began during Thursday’s kick-off celebration. In the school’s library, McDougall talked to students about exploring other worlds, times, and ideas through reading, using Jan Reynold’s “Himalaya” as an example of how readers can travel to Nepal, see glaciers and climb mountains on yaks, just by sitting at home and reading. McDougall also read out loud from “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble” by William Steig, a story about a donkey that collects pebbles and finds one that makes all wishes come true.
Most exciting of all, McDougall had each student choose one book – picture, chapter or otherwise – to take home. Disputes over books, he added, could be solved by one student reading the book and then lending it to another who wants to as well.
Or, as a student suggested, rock-paper-scissors works, too.
“As I’ve said often, if diplomats around the world used rock-paper-scissors, this would be a much better world,” McDougall said.
“There are so many kinds of books,” he added. “We all like different kinds of books, and they’re all out there waiting for you.”
Following the kick-off celebration, monthly activities will continue throughout the year, funded by CLiF and organized by Sheldon Elementary School’s CLiF advisory board, which Lauffer heads up. Author visits, family literacy nights, field trips to the local library, and writing seminars will be among the events.
“[We’ll] try to make each one special,” Lauffer said.
In addition, students will have the chance to sign a “Read To Me” contract with their families, promising they’ll read together at least twice a week the whole year. If 80 percent of the school students sign those contracts with their parents or guardians, the school will win an ice cream party, an author visit, and another book giveaway.
“We definitely want to make that happen,” Lauffer said.
Small teaching grants are also available through CLiF, for which any Sheldon educator can apply. “We’re just looking for great ideas for how to inspire readers and writers,” McDougall explained.
For the time being, Sheldon students will begin their “Year of the Book” by enjoying the new books they chose Thursday, which they immediately took back to their classrooms to read.
“There’s nothing like giving books away,” Lauffer said.