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Rotary clubs, schools and libraries partner to encourage literacy

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.com

Thanks to a grant from the Shenandoah County Rotary Clubs, county students will have an expanded number of e-books available to them through the Shenandoah County Library System.

Rotary clubs have donated a total of $6,000 to help the county's libraries purchase more titles that appeal to youth ages 10 through 18. The project goes hand in hand with literacy initiatives that are taking place throughout the county's three middle schools.

Library Director Sandy Whitesides said that it makes sense to target that particular age group.

"There is a significant drop-off in library checkouts by students that age," he said. In the last fiscal year, cardholders ages five to nine checked out 14,428 books, but those aged 10 to 14 checked out only 3,991.

"When you look at those numbers, I think it makes a compelling case for trying to expand our services targeted at the middle- and high-school age groups," he added.

Additionally, due to a recent policy change, children no longer have to be accompanied by an adult to the library to get a library card. Now, only a parent signature is required for children ages 5 to 17.

North Fork, Peter Muhlenburg and Signal Knob middle schools all will offer a "new card drive" during their open house events taking place next week. Parents can fill out the form, and Rotary club members will be present to help with the process and data entry. After the information reaches the library system, the cards will be sent out to schools to then be delivered to students.

Shelby Kline, principal at North Fork Middle School, said the project will work well with the school's "iPod touch lab." About 30 devices are available for teacher and student check out to use for reading purposes.

"An e-book is a great way to read, for example, for students reading below their grade level. They don't need to feel shy or ashamed about it because on an e-reader device no one around them can tell what they're reading," Kline said.

Kline said she hopes for additional policy changes that might allow students to use their smart phones and other compatible devices to read e-books in school.

"It opens up a world of reading 24/7," she said. "With 21st century learners, we have to be thinking about reading in different ways and methods that will get them excited. The world is changing."

Gina Stettler, Peter Muhlenburg Middle School's principal, shared similar thoughts on technology in schools.

"This is helping to prepare them for the future," she said of the e-book expansion. "Now they'll have an incredible amount of titles to choose from."

The middle school has previously benefited from donated Rotary funds. Two years ago, the Woodstock club collaborated with the Boy Scouts to build book shelves in provide books for each classroom. Stettler said her students have a designated reading time every morning.

Stettler also noted that the e-book project will help students who might have transportation issues and can't make it to the library as often as they like.

"They'll learn how to go online from their home computer and download books, and they'll be able to use the different e-readers and devices ... it's just a great way to kick off the school year and encourage literacy to all the county's students," she said. "We've worked hard to develop a culture of literacy, and this project is just continuing the process."

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