CLARENDON — A sizable grant will put more books in the hands of elementary school students here this year.
CES recently received a $25,000 grant from the Children’s Literacy Foundation as part of the Waterbury-based nonprofit’s Year of the Book program. Nine other schools in Vermont and New Hampshire received the grant as well, which is awarded annually.
A kickoff celebration was held last Friday at CES with CLiF Executive Director Duncan McDougall. During the event, students at the pre-K-6 school received a bundle of five books to keep. They will receive another five throughout the course of the school year.
The grant will provide literacy support to the school throughout the year, including $1,000 to the school library and Bailey Memorial Library in Clarendon, and $3,500 for classroom books. Additional funds will go toward author/illustrator visits and other activities.
“Our kids are going to get more books for themselves, more access to authors and other literacy developments throughout our building,” said CES Librarian Joe Bertelloni.
Bertelloni said the school has been working on getting the grant for the past two years. This was the second time it applied.
He said getting kids access to books during the coronavirus pandemic has been a challenge. The grant helps.
“Our big thing is, we want to get our kids reading as much as possible because, really, during this time, reading is one of the best things our kids can do,” Bertelloni said. “It’s something that they can do on their own. It’s something you do with their family. It’s something that can be shared between generations. And it’s something that can keep them excited and engaged and interested in the world around them even though we can’t necessarily be a part of it.”
Also, Year of the Book’s programming is looking a bit different this school year as result of COVID-19, with most author/illustrator visits likely being held virtually.
Bertelloni said the school is in the process of planning several such visits.
According to Meredith Scott, program director for CLiF, programming also can include writing workshops and something called a “family literacy celebration,” which brings families together around a meal to talk about books.
“We work with storytellers and poets and graphic novelists and authors and author illustrators. It’s a wide group,” Scott said, noting that all presenters are from Vermont or New Hampshire.
Schools also can design their own events that incorporate books and literature. Scott said, in recent years, some schools have held hot air balloon rides and invited Circus Smirkus to host a weeklong workshop with students.
Scott said that, despite COVID-19, CLiF was able to hold in-person kickoffs this fall.
“Most of the schools were able to do that outside,” she said.
And while not having presenters physically in the school may feel less personal, she said schools are trying to make it work.
“Schools are being really thoughtful about how they can use these virtual visits, in line with curriculum as ways to have a different adult engaging with that kids,” Scott said.
Another change due to COVID-19 is how last week’s book giveaway was conducted.
“Typically, a book giveaway is just tons of books spread out on tables — kids come up, they handle them, they read the covers,” Scott said.
But that can’t happen this year. Instead, CES students received an order form from which they could select the titles they wanted. The books were then distributed in bundles at the kickoff event.
Founded in 1998, the CLiF works to inspire a love of reading and writing for children up to age 12 living in Vermont and New Hampshire. Since its creation, CLiF has provided free literacy programs and books to low-income, at-risk and rural children in more than 400 communities across both states, donated $8 million in books.
According the organization’s website, the Year of the Book program “targets schools that have a high percentage of students scoring below proficient in literacy assessments and a high percentage of students receiving free/reduced lunch.”
In addition to Year of the Book, CLiF runs grant programs for at-risk children, child care providers, libraries and out-of-school programs. Also, it runs a program that works with prisons to allow inmates to select books to send back to their kids.
“If we impact a couple kids every time and that changes just how they feel about books or makes them want to work harder on their next poetry assignment or something like that, that’s a huge win,” Scott said.
In addition to the $25,000 CES received this year, it will get a $1,000 “momentum grant” next year as well in order to continue to do literacy work and find ways to permanently embed it into the school for years to come.
“For me, just getting books in the hands of kids is one of the most ideal things we can do — especially with this age group because the more they start reading, the more they’re going to keep reading throughout the years,” Bertelloni said.