Reading Oasis – Drinking in the wonder of books!
The United Way Reading Oasis at Lord Kelvin Elementary School: an anonymous gift opens doors to literacy
A fabulous landscape for reading…
April 28, 2017 – An oasis is usually a water source in the middle of a desert – but at Lord Kelvin Elementary School, it’s a refuge for kids to drink in the wonders of books.
A $10,000 gift from an anonymous United Way donor and a partnership with New Westminster Schools is enhancing the school’s learning landscape.
The gift allowed a purchase of nearly 600 brand new books – and the opening celebration this week of two “United Way Reading Oasis” public spaces for children to immerse themselves in reading during critical after-school hours. One reading oasis is a ‘toddler’s reading space;’ the other is a ‘big kid’ version.
For Robin Stewart, the grant supported one of the ‘most fun projects’ she’s been involved in during her 12 years with New Westminster Schools as community programs coordinator – a book-buying spree over the past 10 months that enhances the school’s collection and speak volumes to the experiences of children in the neighbourhood.
Comfy chairs, painted trees, blue skies and a quiet, calm space that was once a former storage room, will encourage children to engage with books like The Day the Crayons Quit and First Nations stories like Taan’s Moons – a book that brought together the children of Haida Gwaii, Elders, community leaders, local artists and educators in the telling.
In the Reading Oasis. With Associate Superintendent Janet Grant and United Way CEO Michael McKnight
Books that Speak Volumes…
“The books I bought were for school-aged children,” Stewart explained. “They complement the resources in our library – but are available to kids outside school hours. After a period
of deficits, we haven’t had the opportunity to acquire new books in a while, so this has been amazing.”
Stewart said she found books that could be read in one sitting – graphic novels for the older students; books on science subjects like rocks and geology; and art-based books.
“We have dual-language books, lots of books on immigrants and refugees, and books about different kinds of families,” said Stewart. “The kids can see themselves in these books – and that’s a step that can encourage the love of reading in children.”
Everyone pitched in to help move a treasure trove of new books to the new Reading Oases for kids…
Michael McKnight, President and CEO of United Way of the Lower Mainland, applauded the longstanding close relationship between the United Way and New Westminster Schools that opened the door to this project. He was on hand for the celebration April 25, and noted that ensuring beginning readers have access to books is especially important in lower income neighbourhoods.
The United Way in its 2016 demographic report on the city found that 25% of the population in New Westminster’s Uptown neighbourhood live in poverty – which can be a barrier to learning when there are fewer opportunities for access to education supports and healthy development.
Working through the Community Schools Partnership with New Westminster, the United Way has helped almost 1,000 kids access 75 after-school programs at seven community school sites in New Westminster. Lord Kelvin Elementary School has become a key community hub where students and their families can develop important life skills through various community programs – from tutoring and homework help to sports, arts, and health education – while parents can develop life skills and access critical services.
New Westminster Schools Superintendent Pat Duncan welcomed the United Way Reading Oasis as a ‘quiet, calm space that will give children a chance to develop their literacy and strengthen their educational potential.” He expressed the district’s gratitude to the United Way for making these spaces possible.
Parents, publishers, and a labour of love…
Robin Stewart said the project involved a lot of passionate dedication . All 600 books have a “Reading Oasis” sticker on them, – and some $500 in packing tape was used to laminate and protect spines and book edges for long use.
“We managed to make the donation stretch, I’ll tell you!”
In fact, it turned out that many of the books are ‘hyper-local’ — sourced from local publishers, many of whom offered discounts.
Even more fantastically: one of the publishers is Kelvin school parent Tonya Martin. Taan’s Moons, for instance, was published in New Westminster by her company, McKellar & Martin Publishing Group Ltd. — the creation of parent Tonya Martin in partnership with Meghan Hague.
Martin is a former New York-based Scholastic Inc. book acquisitions editor. After moving to Vancouver, she worked as editorial director of children’s books at Raincoast books. In starting her local publishing company three years ago, she and her colleague emphasized ‘authentic voice’ in First Nations publications – and things have taken off from there, Martin said.
Stewart said the Reading Oases benefited from the help of other local publishers too: Vancouver Kidsbooks and United Library Services, with a division in Burnaby, were also important sources for books.