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Another brick in the wall

South Athens uses books as ‘bricks’ to build student education
Posted on 04/27/2018
South Athens uses books as ‘bricks’ to build student education

Good books contain worlds. They provide access to experiences their readers might otherwise never know. They expand understanding and one’s capacity for learning. So it’s no surprise South Athens Elementary was thrilled earlier this school year to receive a nearly $4,000 grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. Teacher Robin Edlin, who applied for the grant, was able to purchase over 300 books targeted to pre-K through first-grade readers. 

“We bought good-quality, informational non-fiction books such as National Geographic and Young Explorer books, biographies and even vocabulary cards,” said Edlin. 

The first-grade teacher points out that, nationally, less than 10 percent of elementary classroom libraries are devoted to non-fiction. 

“Having access to those kinds of books means increased situational and background knowledge, and better vocabulary and reading comprehension,” she said. “We don’t live in a community with a zoo or an aquarium or an art museum down the street. So it limits their hands-on experience if their parents aren’t able to take them to those places. We have to fill in that gap. And while we do enjoy field trips, even those are limited.” 

The books were placed in the “makerspace” room at South Athens. The makerspace is a collaborative work space first-graders use to put their imaginations and problem-solving skills to work by using light tables, a Lego wall, miniature magnetic circuit stations and other brain-teasing tools. The room, which will eventually be available to all grade levels on campus, was made possible through a grant from the Athens Public Education Foundation. The addition of 300 books filled a missing component, said Edlin. 

“I love the books in the makerspace room,” said first-grader Khloe Garcia. “There are a lot of books about animals and science and different places around the world. My favorite is a book about penguins. You can read and learn about what they’re like and where they live and what they eat. It's an awesome book." 

The emphasis on a certain type of reading material comes from knowledge gained through research on what most benefits young learners. 

“Mrs. Stiles is very encouraging of us keeping up with education research,” said Edlin of her South Athens principal, Claudia Stiles. “We want to stay focused on what are the best practices for the kids. And you can’t do the same thing year after year. Kids are different. Every class is different.” 

For Edlin and elementary teachers across the district, there is a clear understanding that while their students may be young, what they learn now has consequences for years to come. 

“This is another brick we have to lay in the foundation for the next level of education,” said Edlin. “If we don’t get it right, they can’t build properly.”

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