Westerville community members are supporting student literacy this summer as guest readers in a virtual storytime through a new program, StoryBox.
The Westerville Education Foundation and Westerville Partners for Education, nonprofit organizations that support student learning in the Westerville City School District, and Neighborhood Bridges are working collaboratively to launch the program that is engaging community leaders.
“We know that summer slide is a real thing,” said Lesley Walden, president of Partners for Education. “Student literacy and comprehension skills fall over the summer months every year, and we expect to see even more of that this year with access to libraries restricted over the summer and more families staying home and indoors. We wanted to find a way to help. StoryBox was born out of that need.”
Through the StoryBox program, four new books will be mailed to every student in kindergarten through third grade who is recommended for summer intervention through Westerville City Schools.
The books, selected by district reading specialists, will be based on each student’s reading level.
In addition, students will have access to an online StoryBox Video Library of guest readers who have recorded the books that student has received in the StoryBox.
Colleen Moidu, executive director of the Westerville Education Foundation, said the video library would be available by June 22. The books would be mailed so they would arrive by that date as well, she said.
Guest readers include chief Brian Miller, Westerville Division of Fire; Chief Charles Chandler, Westerville Division of Police; Jill Beck, Cynthia DeVese, Guerdie Glass, Latresa Rieves, Lee Rutherford and Matt Wolfe from Westerville City Schools; Luke Bovenizer, Westerville Civic Theatre; Erin Francoeur, Westerville Public Library; Ernest Clinkscale, principal of Hawthorne Elementary School; Janet Tressler-Davis, president of the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce; Rick Vilardo, Jennifer Aultman, Nancy Nestor-Baker, Vaughn Bell and Tracy Davidson, Westerville Board of Education (Bell also represents the Westerville Area Ministerial Association); John Comerford, president of Otterbein University; John Kellogg, superintendent of Westerville City Schools; Mollie Lynch and Katy Coffey, Westerville Education Foundation; Kenneth Wright, Mayor Kathy Cocuzzi and vice mayor Valerie Cumming, Westerville City Council; Kim Mollohan, Westerville North High School; Liz Washburn, Westerville Parent Council; state Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville), representing Ohio House District 19; Rick Bannister, executive director of Neighborhood Bridges; and Scott Marier, executive director of the Westerville Area Resource Ministry; Muheeb Hijazeen, a Westerville student; and characters Elsa from “Frozen” and Spider-Man.
Students across the district can access the entire video library of the books included in the program and enjoy a virtual storytime as the library will be made public.
“This is just the right time for the right program,” said Amy Raubenolt, foundation board member. “By combining the gift of books with an online video library of local guest readers sharing those books, we want StoryBox to be a gateway into books for young readers this summer. It doesn’t just give them free books, but it connects students with a community that cares about books and about reading with them. We’re thrilled to get the program off the ground this summer and see how we might grow it in the future.”
Getting books into the hands of children to read is always important, but it’s paramount given the past two months of having to stay at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Scott Ebbrecht, director of assessment and alternative education services who also oversees the district’s summer-learning programs.
“The generosity of the Westerville Education Foundation and Westerville Partners for Education in developing this program is both impressive and truly valued,” he said.
Walden said Westerville Partners for Education’s recent partnership with Reading Matters Westerville is a great fit for this program and has been an integral part in the development of StoryBox.
Moidu said Neighborhood Bridges is a partner for the project and doubled donations up to $5,000 until June 8.
“Neighborhood Bridges is pleased to join this partnership that will directly impact more than 1,100 Westerville students who are in need of summer intervention,” Bannister said. “The strategies of StoryBox are thoughtful, inclusive and congruent with Neighborhood Bridges’ ongoing desire to assist at-risk students with summer school intervention classes.”
Organizers hope to raise $15,000 to fully fund the program. Moidu said she’s personally setting a goal to raise $1,000 for the project, and she’s hopeful others will join her.
In addition to making a larger donation to the program, community members can sponsor a StoryBox reader for $25 by going to westervilleeducationfoundation.com/p/81/storybox.