BEE Backpacks to inspire flurry of reading this winter

By Josette Keelor

Something fun, free and educational will start buzzing home with Ashby Lee Elementary School students later this year.

Through the upcoming Books Encouraging Education program, Quicksburg students will be able to sign out BEE Backpacks containing fiction or nonfiction books, picture books and supplies for completing hands-on projects.

The program was made possible by a $2,000 grant that teacher Robin Brown-Orndorff wrote to Voya’s Unsung Heroes award contest. The backpacks filled with supplies should be ready to go in late December.

Brown-Orndorff said she developed the idea for the take-home literacy program after hearing parent responses from the school’s thematic backpack program for kindergarten.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have something school wide that’s similar to this?,” she remembered hearing.

Though the $2,000 from Voya Financial, formerly ING, won’t fully cover the program as Brown-Orndorff has imagined it, she said, “It will definitely get it started.”

“For our school this year we have an increased interest in STEM ideas,” she said. STEM classes focus on science, technology, engineering and math education, but at Ashby Lee, it’s called STREAM.

“We have the R for reading and the A for arts thrown in there,” she said.

The BEE Backpacks will help promote all those ideas, she said. The content-related books will encourage increased home involvement in children’s literacy and a strong literacy foundation for students.

Voya Financial’s Unsung Heroes awards competition recognizes innovative teaching ideas by awarding grants to educators in K-12 programs. According to a news release from the company, Brown-Orndorff is one of 100 winners from around the U.S. to win a $2,000 award and now will compete to win an additional $5,000, $10,000 or $25,000 from Voya Financial.

Previously a fifth grade teacher, Brown-Orndorff became the school’s instructional technology resource coach this year. Though she’s worked with teachers who have started similar literacy programs, she said this one will be unique.

The goal is to instill in children a love of learning and a desire to read at home, she said, and the program will be free and purely for fun.

“The hope is to have students checking out the first backpacks before winter break,” she said.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or

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