Program lets pupils offer gift of reading

Ilchester books initiative spreads to other schools

Howard County

January 21, 2003|By Deitrich Curry | Deitrich Curry,SUN STAFF

Visitors who walk through the green double doors of Ilchester Elementary into the Ellicott City school's main hall these days, see a cardboard box with a lime green sign and the words "A Gift of Reading."

The box represents a remarkable exercise of giving that has involved thousands of students in schools across Howard County over the past few years.

It started six years ago at Ilchester, where the PTA was looking for a way to gather books to be distributed to less fortunate pupils. Notices were sent home to parents, urging them to help their children identify good books to pass along to others.

FOR THE RECORD - In an article yesterday about book-drive efforts in Howard County public schools, Atholton Elementary School was incorrectly identified and Harper's Choice Middle School was misidentified as a different level of school. The Sun regrets the errors.

The first year, Ilchester schoolchildren donated more than 1,000 books and inspired the project's organizers to expand the effort. Last year, students from 10 Howard County schools donated 7,762 books, and that was just the beginning.

Some of those schools are launching their own independent book-collection and distribution programs.

For Kathy Tomaszewski, a member of the Ilchester PTA who has coordinated the book-giving effort since it began, it has been quite a ride.

"[The book drive] is a great way of recycling books. Otherwise the books would be thrown away or sitting on a shelf not being used," said Tomaszewski, who accepts only new and gently used books.

Tomaszewski personally collects the books and stores them in her basement, which is not big enough to hold all that she gathers. It is an overwhelming effort, she said.

Deep Run Elementary in Elkridge was one of last year's recipient schools.

"The children were very excited to receive a book of their own to read and take home," Principal Fran Donaldson said. "They were also excited that they could choose their own books."

Helping others discover good books has been fun for the kids donating them, too.

Cara McQuitty, a 7-year-old second-grader at Ilchester Elementary, recently donated a Curious George book and a Nate the Great book she had outgrown. "I should just share the books," Cara said.

Kevin Molczyk, a second-grader at Ilchester, has donated 30 books to this year's drive. "I feel kind of happy that someone else gets to enjoy the books that I don't really read anymore," the 7-year-old said.

Ilchester pupils began gathering books in November, before the holidays, and will continue until the end of this month. Other Howard County schools hold their drives only during this month.

The books go to the five to 10 Howard schools with large numbers of pupils who could benefit from them. Most books will go to classroom libraries, while some go to schoolchildren to take home. None of the books will be put in the media center because the process of getting them approved for school libraries takes too long.

At each donating school, volunteers sort the books by reading levels. Cindy Bulgarino, a volunteer at Hollifield Station Elementary, knows that Tomaszewski wants her to sort books into six reading levels. Books are also sorted based on adult or religious content.

During the first year, in 1997, Ilchester Elementary donated the books collected there to at-risk pupils at an elementary school in Baltimore.

In 2000, 5,241 books were donated to Howard pupils. This school year, only five schools joined Ilchester because some, such as Clemens Crossing and Worthington elementary schools, decided to start their own book programs.

Appleton, Hollifield Station and Harper's Choice elementary schools are collecting with Ilchester and Howard High School this year.

Bulgarino, a member of Hollifield Station's PTA, hopes that her school exceeds the 770 books that schoolchildren collected last year.

"The books we donate are the first books some students ever own," she said.

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