Baraboo literacy coaches grow students’ personal book collections

February 18, 2019

Baraboo Literacy Coach Jaclyn Beall is on a mission.

Since reading about research that found the amount of books in a child’s home has an effect on the level of education that child will eventually achieve, she wants to make sure every student has books they can call their own.

Ideally, each home would have 500 books. With that number, a child is considered “privileged.” At least 80 books are needed to be considered sufficient based on the study, Beall said.

“Regardless of your nationality, level of education, parents’ economic status, children who grew up in a home with books reached a higher level of education. Let that soak in,” she said at a November school board meeting. “Regardless of all of this, if you have access to books and books in your house, that’s going to propel you so much further in life. And I can’t get that 500 number out of my head.”

The research led Beall and fellow Gordon L. Willson Elementary School Literacy Coach Laura Rhode to hold book drives in November at the school and North Freedom Elementary, where Rhode also works. They collected almost 1,800 books in four days.

Every Wednesday for about two months after that, the two let their students look the books over and pick one to take home. They hope to make the book drives annual.

“What the teachers (at North Freedom) have said to me … is that the kids love these books,” Rhode said at the Nov. 12 board meeting. “There are kids who don’t have books in their home, and they were so excited.”

Larger literacy efforts

District Reading Specialist Karin Exo noted the Baraboo School District’s commitment to literacy. Each building has a set of goals, which are largely focused around the topic.

“So, it’s really making sure that everybody is on the same page and everybody’s working toward the same goal of increasing our literacy for our students, because we know that it transfers over to every subject area,” Exo said.

Even music, art and physical education teachers support the effort. Posters line the gym walls at Wilson Elementary on topics such as exercise, Beall said, creating an environment that makes it clear “that reading is important even though it’s a gymnasium.”

Music teacher Amy Hiel set up a music library outside of her classroom at Wilson Elementary as an extension of the general library, dedicated to books on musical topics, composers and performers, as well as kits with CDs, instruments and “movement props” that accompany the written material. During their library time, students can check out an item from her library.

“Books they can sing,” Hiel said.

She started with about 70 items last year, donating some from her personal collection — “because I’ll find books that I really like and I can’t help myself” — and getting the rest through donations and her budget. This month, she reached 200.

Starting from birth

One area that Baraboo schools is emphasizing the importance of immersing children in language and written materials as early as possible, Beall said.

“In simplistic terms, the more you read, the more you know,” Exo said. “The more you know, the smarter you are. The smarter you are, the more likely you are to graduate from high school, to go on to some sort of post-secondary education, and the less likely you are to become incarcerated.”

For the first time, the district’s literacy coaches — led by Beall — are combining their efforts to organize a Family Literacy Night at Baraboo High School Feb. 28, when anyone is welcome to attend. It will feature various activities and booths, as well as materials for parents. One station will focus on literacy for children as young as newborns.

“This is not just for kids who are Baraboo schools students. If you are a kid who is home-schooled, you are welcome to come to this because you are in the Baraboo area and we want to increase literacy for every single student,” Beall said. “The things that we’re talking to parents about — every parent can benefit from.”

And everyone will get to take a book on their way out.