In Michelle Rzewski Copeland's perfect world, every parent would take the time to read to their children after school. However, the Potowmack Elementary School librarian realizes many Loudoun County parents can't read to their children after school for a variety of reasons. For many parents, it is hard to find the time to sit down with their son or daughter with a book after a long work day, before supper and in between chores. For some, they do not speak the language.
Even though Copeland realizes parents’ packed schedules and the language barrier, she said it is still important for children to be read to, especially those learning English.
"It gives them a chance to listen," Copeland said. "It is important to promote reading at home and to build listening comprehension skills."
In an effort to promote reading at home and overcome the various obstacles, the librarian came up with "HEART: Hear Excellent Audio-books Today."
Once she came up with a solution, she needed a way to fund it.
WHILE SURFING the Internet over the summer, Copeland stumbled upon the National Education Association (NEA) Web site. There she applied for a $5,000 Student Achievement Grant to purchase cassette players, books and books on tape.
NEA president Reg Williams presented 76 Student Achievement Grants totaling $380,000 for the 2006-2007 school year, including to Copeland.
When selecting applicants, Williams said he looks for several things.
"We prefer projects that serve economically-disadvantaged children," he said. "We provide teachers with resources that might not be available to them."
Williams said the majority of teachers request resources that deal with technological equipment, like computer software, cassette, compact disc and DVD players.
"Hopefully, these projects will result in higher student achievements," Williams said.
The grants are given to school staff to develop projects, like "HEART," to foster high student achievement by implementation of creative-based learning. These projects focus on closing the gaps in achievement that exist among various subgroups of public school students.
"If parents can’t read to them, the books can," Copeland said.
AFTER RECEIVING the grant, Copeland reached out to fellow librarian Dean M. Roberts and third-grade teacher Kristie Galati to create a list of books on tape that might be beneficial to kindergarten through third-graders.
Galati compiled a list of books she thought her students might like for Copeland's program. She came up with a variety of fiction and nonfiction books ranging from the autobiographies of Anne Frank, Ben Franklin and Rosa Parks to the Velveteen Rabbit.
"A lot of these books are on SOL (Standards of Learning) people students need to know about," she said. "The books on tape will help ESL students and lower readers."
After taking a cassette player and audio book home, students can take a listening comprehension test in their classroom for extra credit.
With just two weeks under their belt, students already began to take advantage of the audio books.
On Friday, Sept. 15, Roberts organized a few sparse audio-book racks.
"We have about 300 reading packets for students to take home," she said. "A lot of them have already been checked out."
Teachers can apply for grants through the NEA Web site, www.nea.org.