Boosted by grants, teachers hoping to fill classrooms with books

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Thane Borgen, left, and Malaki Simpson read during Leslie DiMaio’s class last week.

Someday soon, Columbia Falls junior high teacher Leslie DiMaio hopes to have most of the walls in her classroom covered in books.

“Studies show that kids read 50 to 60 percent more if they’re surrounded by books,” DiMaio, a language arts and literature teacher said in a recent interview.

Right now she has about nine bookshelves in her classroom and about 600 individual titles, everything from graphic novels to classic works of literature.

She will be able to boost that collection, soon, too as she was recently awarded a $2,000 grant from the Book Love Association. Nia Vestal, an English teacher at the high school also received a $2,000 grant and part-time junior English and literature teacher Jennifer Robbins was awarded a $3,000 grant from the Snapdragon Book Foundation.

Vestal said she was able to buy about 215 books with her grant.

“I’m trying to create a colelction that’s diverse,” she said. She said having book sin class has been a game changer. She said she had at least five students who hadn’t read a book since fifth grade — now they’re taking them home to read.

DiMaio said the junior high has a great library, but having books in class that a student can just grab and start reading has proven beneficial.

“The mission is to get books in the hands of students,” she said. Kids just check them out and they’re off reading. They even have time set aside in class to read to themselves.

One student last year even read Homer’s “The Odyssey” on his own.

Not bad for a seventh grader.

Over the years DiMaio has built up her in-class library, using the stipend the school gives her for class supplies and her own money to buy books.

While most kids aren’t reading classic Greek poetry, they are reading other books.

Popular titles include “Booked” by Kwame Alexander, which is written in verse, sort of like a modern-day E.E. Cummings, with letters bold and capitalized mid-word as he weaves his tales. Other books include the “Unwanteds” series and “Orbiting Jupiter” by Gary D. Schmidt.

DiMaio is always interested in age-appropriate donations as well. She noted that many students start out with easier to read books and then graduate to more challenging work. Reading also helps another aspect of everyday life — writing.

“The more we read, the better our writing is,” she said.

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