Grant helps boost school literacy

AT JUST $1,000 a year, Thornhill Elementary School’s library book budget wasn’t even close to keeping up with demand.

  • Jun. 6, 2012 9:00 a.m.

AT JUST $1,000 a year, Thornhill Elementary School’s library book budget wasn’t even close to keeping up with demand.

Book fairs have helped but even the  additional $1,000 or $2,000 a year they’ve brought in barely made a dent in the need.

But now that the school has received a $56,000 grant, principal Debbie Koehn is looking forward to meeting her students’ collective desire to read.

“It was very exciting news for our school,” said Koehn of learning about the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation grant, which will be spent over the next three years. “Literacy is a focus in this school with all of our staff and this will help immensely,” she said.

Koehn added that the teachers and others at the school kept to their desire to improve literacy levels despite the stresses of the teachers’ job action this year.

And although the library contains older books it would never dispose of, Koehn did say the average age of a book is 16 years, much older than the students it serves.

The lack of a book budget has put a particular cramp in the school’s ability to update its fiction series collection.

“A lot of children, when they read one book in a series by an author, they will want to read every other book in the series,” noted Koehn. “Students are always asking us for the next book but we may only have one or two by that author.”

She cited the Hunger Games series as an example of a high readership demand.

“The kids couldn’t get enough. I ended up buying three sets of the Hunger Games myself,” said Koehn.

She’s not sure yet how many books the grant will buy, adding that non-fiction books for young people, for example, range from $35 to $70.

Students as well as teachers will be asked for their opinions on what should be purchased and there will also be attention paid to non-fiction books.

“We don’t have a lot of current non-fiction material,” said Koehn.

Koehn wants to combine the impact of the grant with a program from Vancouver Island University to provide assistance to further improve literacy skills at Thornhill Elementary and at New Hazelton Elementary School.

“I’m looking forward to a way of bringing the two together,” she said of the impact on Thornhill. “Each can exist independently but together they would have an impact.”

The Vancouver Island University assistance will come in the form of a literacy coach to work with the two elementary schools.

Koehn hopes to fill that position as literacy coach with the island university to then cover the cost of replacing her when she’s on assignment.

The Indigo Love of Reading Foundation has previously provided grants to two other northern BC schools – $150,000 to David Hoy Elementary in Fort St. James and $51,000 to Conrad St. Elementary in Prince Rupert.

Koehn said she saw an advertisement about the foundation in the Indigo-owned Coles book store at the Skeena Mall, which has since closed.