Molly Stark holds 'Literacy Night'

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BENNINGTON — Parents and students shared a special night at Molly Stark Elementary School, all paid for by a grant from the Children's Literacy Foundation (CLiF).

Every student who attended received two free books, which were chosen by parents and wrapped by Molly Stark staff, and every family was treated to pizza and cookies. After the meal, while the books were being wrapped, parents attended a workshop on the important of reading to children with author Doug Wilhelm, and children settled down in the cafeteria for a screening of the holiday classic "Frosty the Snowman." Afterward the whole group gathered back in the cafeteria for storytelling with Wilhelm.

Wilhelm, who traveled to Bennington from Middlebury, and met with pre-schoolers at the Bennington Free Library earlier in the day and held writing workshops with Molly Stark third, fourth, and fifth graders, told parents that he was not an educator, but a parent. As such, he didn't want to stand their and lecture at them, but instead have a conversation between parents.

"We need to get rid of the distractions," he said. "We are so distracted as parents, there is so much to get done... But reading is one of the only times that its just you and your child or children, and its just so precious." He suggested that parents have a reading routine and stick to it, and to let their children pick the stories.

"If they want to read something over their head, help them, but let them have that agency," he said.

Librarian Allyson Hoffman, one of the organizers of the event, said that based on how many families signed up for the event, they planned to feed 360 people, not including volunteers.

Principal Michael Mugits said that the school has made a concerted effort to increase access to literary resources outside of school hours, both through applying for the Year of the Book grant, which he said was largely handled by Hoffman, and through other programs, such as the recent partnership with the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center, which resulted in a lending library being erected at the Willowbrook Apartments.

One of the parents at the workshop praised Hoffman, who she said has engaged her kids with reading, so that they come home excited to read the books they got from the school library that day.

The $25,000 grant was part of the CLiF's Year of the Book program, which funds 10 books for each student in the school over the course of school year, new books for both the school library and the Bennington Free Library, author visits, and events such as this one.

According to CLiF, "The CLiF Year of the Book sponsorship supplements literacy curricula at schools with high percentages of students scoring below state standards on reading and writing tests and high percentages of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. The grant aims to build a culture of literacy in these communities by working with schools, families, town libraries, and even local businesses to inspire a love of reading and writing amongst children. The grant provides new books for town, school, and classroom libraries multiple literacy presentations and workshops by professional authors, storytellers, and illustrators field trips, mini-grants for teachers' classroom projects parent literacy seminars professional development opportunities for teachers and up to 10 new books for students to choose and keep over the course of the school year."

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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