Leslie Webber calls on a third-grade student in Vanessa Williams’ classroom at Fairview Elementary School April 1 as she introduced the book “Fraction Fun,” by David Adler. Webber, a financial and planning manager with Weyerhaueser, joined First Book of Lowndes County volunteers to distribute a new book to every Fairview student for their personal library. Photo by: Mary Alice Weeks/Dispatch Staff
April 12, 2014 11:27:14 PM
Leslie Webber stood in front of a classroom of third-graders at Fairview Elementary School in Columbus April 1 and asked, "Who likes math?" Somewhat surprisingly, almost every student thrust a hand up. "What jobs can you do with math?" Webber continued, coaxing students to voice examples before presenting each child with a copy of the book "Fraction Fun," by David Adler.
Webber isn't a teacher. She's a finance and planning manager with Weyerhaeuser. She was on hand to help First Book of Lowndes County volunteers distribute a new book to every student at Fairview that day for their home library. She knows the importance of inspiring a thirst for reading and learning in the community that will produce Weyerhaeuser's future employees. It's one reason the Weyerhaueser Foundation awarded a grant of $6,500 to First Book this academic year. It's the corporation's second grant to the nonprofit organization.
"We very much thank Weyerhaueser for their support for the past two years, and Leslie as their representative for coming out to the schools," said Gail Boland, president of the First Book of Lowndes County Advisory Board. "Look at the number of children we've been able to reach because of it."
April is a busy month for First Book volunteers. They are distributing books not only at Fairview, but at Franklin Academy, West Lowndes Elementary School and Columbus Middle School as well. Before the school year is finished, First Book will have distributed more than 4,800 books at four schools and four day care facilities.
Part of a nationwide program, First Book of Lowndes County provides new books to children and the programs that serve them, addressing one of the most important factors affecting literacy -- access to books. First Book accepts applications for books from eligible community organizations, including schools, day care, after-school and tutoring-mentoring programs that serve a designated ratio of children from low-income households. Typical grants last six months and offer each child in the program a steady supply of books, usually one per month, at no cost.
Book titles can be chosen to complement class work. At Fairview, Curriculum Coordinator Mildred Ford has seen an increase in targeted reading skills and scores since the school and First Book partnered.
Ford said, "We're immersed in Common Core this year, primarily in math and science. We want our children to know learning can be fun, and with selected books like 'Fraction Fun,' we're mixing learning with fun."
While the vast majority of books go to young children and elementary students, First Book also provides books to a target group of 15 eighth-grade girls at Columbus Middle School through a program called Women Influencing Lives Through Literature. The concept originated with teen Emma Thompson, when she was a senior at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.
"Emma wanted to help young women learn good values, develop self-esteem and encourage them to make good choices, to go somewhere with their lives," said advisory board member Becky Maurer. Before First Book, which was joined by Century 21 in making the book grant, the WILTL group borrowed books from the school library. Now, each girl can keep her own copy of every selected book.
"We're always trying for grants, but our goal is to build a base of support within our community," said Boland. "Any amount helps; with even $25 we can get five books each for two children from the First Book Marketplace." The Marketplace offers selections to First Book at deep discount.
Volunteers to read and distribute books are welcome. The reward is worth the effort.
"It was fun watching the looks on the kids' faces when they got their books," said Webber, after the book distribution. "Weyerhaeuser thinks it's very important to give back to the community, and that's one of the things I really value."
For more information about First Book, contact Boland at 662-889-8771. Tax-deductible contributions may be mailed to First Book of Lowndes County, P.O. Box 1265, Columbus, MS 39703. Learn more at firstbook.org/lowndescounty.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.