Just last May, donors from Burr and Burton Academy (BBA) contributed $100,000 to create the Education Innovation Fund, for use by the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union’s (BRSU) new Taconic and Green Regional School District (T&G). This resource was specifically earmarked to support innovative programs for elementary students living in poverty and encouraged the schools to collaborate with local organizations. At that time, BBA Headmaster, Mark Tashjian, summed up why this concept was important, “It is common knowledge that the sooner we can support these students, the better their educational success will be in the long run.”
To jumpstart this agenda, BBA and T&G have teamed up with Manchester’s own Northshire Bookstore to craft a pilot program focused on early literacy. The idea is simple. Each month, throughout the school year, students would be given a choice of books to keep. The menu of options would be developed by the children’s literature professionals at Northshire Bookstore. T&G’s Currier Memorial School, with its significant percentage of economically disadvantaged students, was selected as the test site for the book-a-month program.
As BRSU Superintendent, Jackie Wilson, points out, “Reading books at home, as a family in the evening, builds an essential foundation for lifelong learning. And actually owning a book chosen by the student should increase the commitment to read.”
Each month, Currier’s Pre-K through third graders will choose from at least three books. Each grade gets an age-appropriate set of books to choose from and the program will run through the end of the school year. The expertise of Northshire Bookstore comes in handy in making this effort succeed. Jessica Wood, the Bookstore’s children’s literature book buyer for the last 20 years, overseas the selection of at least 15 different books each month. Jessica commented, “There’s such a wide range of wonderful books for youngsters. It’s going to be difficult to decide what options to offer. Each month we will include at least one non-fiction title for students to consider. Including both fiction and non-fiction exposes the children to more choices and helps spark the love of learning.”
The excitement was palpable on the first distribution day. Just after lunch, each child stepped forward to receive a new book from Currier Principal, Carolyn Parillo: “Our students were so excited and beyond adorable about getting their new books. It was pure joy.” One proud student clutched his book close to his chest and declared, “Now I can start my own library!”
As the year goes on, more projects at all of the T&G schools will be put into the field. While much work lies ahead, the early returns from the Currier book-a-month program indicate BBA and T&G are on the right track. BBA’s Director of Advancement, Cynthia Gubb, who was on hand to join in the Currier celebration, succinctly summed up the first distribution day. “Happy faces and a new book to take home. Can’t get much better than that.”