The news was good enough to make one kindergartener take off her glasses and wipe away tears.
Along with dozens of her peers at Sunrise Elementary School in Aurora, the student had just learned she would receive a steady stream of gifts throughout the school year. Thanks to a combined grant of $4,000, the entire Sunrise kindergarten population of 100 students would be getting two free books every month. Each student would get to choose from a wide selection of titles during a special ceremony held in the library every month.
For man of the students at Sunrise, those free books were more important than any shiny new iPad or fancy electronic device could have been.
“Fifty percent of our kids get free and reduced lunch. Some of these kids don’t have any books at home,” said Susie Isaac, a teacher/librarian at Sunrise. “They go from zero books to having eighteen of their own that they’ve chosen by the end of the school year.”
That’s part of the reason the school’s Read Aloud Daily (RAD) program has become so critical since its implementation three years ago. The funding for the initiative comes through an Early Literacy Grant from Target worth $2,000, as well as a matching grant from a private donor for the same amount. That total of $4,000 goes toward purchasing 18 books for every kindergartener at the school.
But the Sunrise R.A.D. program also goes beyond the boundaries of the school itself. As part of the initiative, students take home a monthly calendar with designated reading times for parents and kids. If a parent reads aloud to their child five times in a single week, they’re eligible for a wide range of rewards, including passes to recreation centers, gift cards to restaurants and other prizes. Last year, local businesses donated about $3,500 worth of gifts.
“In many communities, it’s par for the course that you read to your kids every night. That’s not necessarily the way our families work,” Isaac explained, adding that many parents work jobs with nontraditional hours. “We’re just trying to instill that routine.”
Creating that kind of culture takes one essential component: books. Thanks to the combination of grants and gifts, Sunrise students will have plenty of those in the next nine months.
“It’s like a $7,500 program that we don’t have to pay for at all,” Isaac said. “It’s all through grants and donations.”
The value of that money goes beyond a single school year. That much was clear during the second week of the school year at Sunrise, when groups of kindergarteners lined up at different times in the library. They selected between books about penguins and princesses, meerkats and Mac trucks. As the students lined up and waited for their teacher to inscribe their names in their new books, they seemed impatient. They couldn’t wait to find a good nook and get reading.
That kind of enthusiasm is the whole point of the grant, one that’s bound to last longer than a single school year.
-- Posted Sept. 2, 2014