Rotary Club of Champaign to fund reading program

By Angelica Lavito

Students at Robeson Elementary School will be introduced to new books throughout the school year thanks to a reading program provided by the Champaign Public Library.

The Rotary Club of Champaign gave the library a $14,800 grant to fund the reading program at the school. The program will provide each third and fourth grade classroom at Robeson, a Champaign Unit 4 school, with 200 new books and will provide the media center with 350 books. The classrooms also received new shelving to present the books in a way that will appeal to students. 

The librarians visit monthly to tell students about the books they are giving to the classroom. Twice a year, the students pick one book that they can take home with them. Students will also receive a tour of the Champaign Public Library. 

“We love the program,” said Allison Archer, library teacher at Robeson. “It’s caused a lot of excitement for the kids. They can hardly wait for the public librarians to come in and do their book talks and bring more books to their classrooms … The classrooms have newer books and enough copies that everybody gets a turn with them.”

Before the program, Archer said students sometimes had to wait to check out books at the school library, but now they are able to provide students with enough of the popular books that they do not have to wait.

“We did this before with Garden Hills Elementary School and got good feedback,” said Mike Rogalla, children’s librarian at the Champaign Public Library. “We found from teachers that students were more engaged in reading, they were reading books from beginning to end, they were choosing to read during indoor recess, asking for more books by the authors we showed them and a number of kids got their first library card to get even more books.”

According to the library’s grant application, the program focuses on third and fourth graders because 53 percent of students in Champaign Unit 4 School District come from low-income homes. Of these fourth graders, 68 percent scored below the proficient level, which is solid mastery for their grade level, in reading on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test in 2011, while 35 percent scored in the academic warning category.

President of the Rotary Club of Champaign John Calderon said the Rotary Club and its members overwhelmingly approved the grant to serve the community’s needs and promote literacy in Champaign’s children.

“Rotary International, which is our main body, believes that educating our young children in early ages, as we all know, will better them in the future,” Calderon said. “The more time we spend in helping educate them in reading, their futures will be much brighter.”

Calderon said funds from the Joseph H. Cannon memorial grant were used to pay for this program. The grant’s purpose is to pursue the Rotary Club’s passion of educating the community’s children.

The program provides students with books that librarians think will excite students, thus encouraging them to read more. Some of the books include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Babymouse as well as the Ivy and Bean series.

Each month, Rogalla goes to Robeson to distribute the books. He gives students a synopsis in hopes of peaking their interests.

“It’s very rewarding for us to go into classrooms and see the kids really looking forward to this and wanting more of it and choosing with their own free time while they’re at school to read these books they’ve been provided with,” Rogalla said.

The program’s continuation depends on funds, and Archer hopes the program is able to continue.

“We think (the program) is wonderful and the public library did so much work and the Rotary was very generous with the grant,” Archer said. “It’s just really nice to see people backing the schools, reading to the kids and just getting them excited about what they’re doing.”

Angelica can be reached at [email protected]