grants photo 2014

Grant recipients Michelle Greco, from left, Bonnie Bucholz, Jen Reyes and Erin Kasanders are recognized during the annual Darien District 61 Teachers’ Institute on Aug. 28 marking the start of a new school year. Foundation board vice-chairman Andrew Blumenfeld, right, was among board members making the presentations.

Foundation awards two grants targeting literacy

The family that reads together learns together. And grows together.

That’s the principle behind one of two grants the Darien District 61 Educational Foundation has awarded for the 2014-15 school year to teachers at Lace School. The $8,325 award will fund the year-long “Lace Reads Together” program, designed to foster a shared experience where everyone in the school community is collectively reading the same book at the same time.

Leading the effort are third-grade teachers Jennifer Reyes, Bonnie Bucholz and Michelle Greco. “The goals and objectives are simple: build and expand a sense of community among students, parents, teachers and staff through the experience of reading,” they say in their grant application. “In addition, we want to continue to build a love for reading through a shared social experience where everyone and anyone can participate.”

Guided discussions of the chosen book will take place during regular reading and language-arts class time to work on goals such as comprehension and fluency. At-home reading activities will also be part of the fun. But that’s only the beginning. School assemblies, trivia contests and family nights–all centered on the shared story–are also part of the program. One book will be chosen this fall and then the process will be repeated in the spring with another selection.

Perhaps the highlight during the year is a visit from a professional author, who will discuss the art of writing and story-telling and what it takes to start with a simple idea and end up with a book that can keep readers spellbound for hours.

The second grant awarded by the Foundation will help establish an “iPod Listening Literacy Center” at Lace School, offering yet another tool to help students improve their reading skills.  Third-grade teacher Erin Kasanders received a $1,000 grant to help get the center up and running through the purchase of six iPod Nano devices and a collection of audio books.

In her grant application, Kasanders emphasizes the importance of fluency in reading instruction. “Fluency is important because it affects students’ reading comprehension and efficiency,” she says. “Recorded books increase fluency by verbalizing printed words with the correct pace, phrasing and expression.”

The listening center will be able to accommodate up to six students at a time and also complement the existing “leveled library” of printed books already available for students at all reading levels.

“Today’s world is filled with the latest gadgets, gizmos, apps and videos created to engage and teach my students,” Kasanders says. “However, as a teacher I strongly believe nothing can quite match the connection between a book and a student.” She says the listening center will “combine the engagement given by technology and the love of books into one learning activity that can be used over and over again.”