Kiwanis and School Leaders

TCK Boosts School Reading Programs

The Tri-Cities Kiwanis Club has long supported reading in the Tri-Cities, most recently through donations to local schools through a fund named after longtime educator and Kiwanis member Sandy Huber.

On March 20, 2024, the local Kiwanis club hosted a lunch, during which several local educators shared how that money was being spent in their districts.

Photo: From left, Leon Stille with the Tri-Cities Kiwanis Club, stands with educators Tim Annema, Grand Haven Christian School; Kate Drake, Shelly Peets and Sandra Smits, Spring Lake Public Schools; Maureen Turner, St. Mary’s Catholic School; Mary Jane Evink, Grand Haven Area Public Schools; and Mark Roessing, Walden Green Montessori School.

Mareen Turner, principal at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Spring Lake, said her school is using the funds to refresh its classroom libraries.

“I went around and took a survey of the students, and they love the novels – they can’t speak highly enough of them,” she said during the luncheon. “There are a lot more opportunities because of the money you’ve given us. We’re so appreciative.”

Sandra Smits, principal at Holmes Elementary School in Spring Lake, explained that she and Jeffers Elementary Principal Shelley Peets have teamed up to focus on books that address inclusion.

“We’ve taken this amazing opportunity to look at things between the two elementary schools, and one of the themes has been coming through the idea of inclusion,” Smits said. “We reached out to our SXI teacher, who had a list of ideas, and we’ve taken that list to all our classroom teachers and told them, ‘you have this much money for books on inclusion; what would you like to buy?”

Tim Annema, principal at Grand Haven Christian School, said the funding has allowed his school to bolster its collection of books written in Spanish.

“All of the students come from English language homes, so when they come to our library, our media center, they pick out an English book to bring home and read with mom and dad, but we also want to advance them in their Spanish, so we’re working to get more resources for those,” Annema said.

Mark Roessing, director at Walden Green Montessori School, said his school has been able to purchase new books that go toward book circles for second and third graders.

“The main priority was to revamp and augment books for literature circles,” he said. “The discussions occurring at that level, like the book clubs our students participate in, helps with comprehension, vocabulary, making predictions, connections, comparing and contrasting – developing all those essential literacy skills.”

Mary Jane Evink, curriculum director for Grand Haven Area Public Schools, said her district is using the funds to purchase decodable books for students in kindergarten through second grade.

“A decodable book is a book specifically written to what a child is learning in phonics,” Evink said. “If they’re learning the short ‘a’ sound – the cat sat on the hat – that’s all that’s going to be in that book. It’s not going to have any phonics we haven’t learned yet. It’s pretty new learning, that if you put even short words in that they haven’t learned to decode, they stumble, they’re guessing, and they’re not practicing the thing the teacher taught them in class.

“So the idea is the teacher teaches the whole group in phonics, and then they get a book that hones right in on what they just learned to practice that independently.”

Evink said the district is seeing a noticeable improvement in reading levels since adopting the new phonics plan.

“We are seeing our youngest readers advance, some of them months ahead of what they would normally be this time of year, and that is all thanks to you,” Evink said.

Peets stressed to the Kiwanis members the importance of providing books for students.

“A lot of groups give books to schools, so you might feel like that’s a little redundant, but it’s not,” she said. “We go through books like crazy. Sometimes books go home and they don’t come back, and that’s OK. Plus, we’re always looking to refresh the libraries we have in our classrooms. Your gifts of books is always needed and appreciated.”

Evink echoed Peets’ statement.

“I believe this is one of the most powerful ways you can impact – when you find a child and give you give that child a home run book and they fall in love with reading,” she said. “Sometimes we take for granted the power to read a menu, but when you walked into restaurant, if you can’t do that, you’re a marginalized person in the population.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *