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Harrisburg, PA. Schools Win Recognition for their “Diversity & Inclusion” Library
Books give power to open discussion about topics at any grade level.
October 14, 2021 — Diversity and inclusion in the classroom starts early in Harrisburg, PA schools, thanks to the leadership and initiative of an exemplary second grade teacher. Derek Witmer, winner of a 2021 Judith’s Reading Room Freedom Through Literacy Award, developed and curated a “Diversity and Inclusion” library at Paxtonia Elementary School as a tool to share with fellow teachers.
Hailed by his principal, Julia Batdorf, as a “conscientious and exemplary teacher,” Witmer’s important project is now replicated in a second school with a donation of $500 from Judith’s Reading Room. South Side Elementary School in Harrisburg, PA under the leadership of 2nd grade teacher Stacey Chyr, is the recipient of Judith’s Reading Room’s 102nd library. “The library is up and running,” said Chyr. She added, “The teachers are really excited about having such a great collection of books.” Twenty-six books will be available to just over 800 students in grades Kindergarten through Fifth grade.
Curated by Derek Witmer, the library includes books which touch on topics such as general diversity, acceptance, gender identity, familial make ups, disabilities, and SEL; as well as stories about a student who has a parent in prison, or families dealing with immigration or language barriers, and stories that tackle with the loss of a parent. “The extensive range of books Derek curated sheds light on the complexity and reality of students in classrooms across America today,” said Cathy Leiber, President, Judith’s Reading Room.
“The more representation we are able to see in our children’s literature, the more accepting and inclusive a world we can build,” said Witmer.
Resources and discussion cards accompany the library for teachers to familiarize themselves with the topics and feel comfortable leading discussions with their students.
The mission of Judith’s Reading Room is to enrich lives and societies by proactively encouraging freedom through literacy. To date, the organization has fulfilled that mission by establishing 102 libraries in 22 countries with over 128,000 books worth nearly $1.4 million.
Applications for the 2022 Freedom Through Literacy Award will be posted on the website at www.judithsreadingroom.org in January 2022.
In celebration of Banned Books Week, Scott and Cathy Liber, co-founders of Judith’s Reading Room, visited Titcomb’s Bookshop, Sandwich, MA. On the right, is Ellen Speers, manager of this outstanding independent bookstore founded in 1969 in MA by the Titcomb family.
Titcomb’s Bookshop had a large display of banned books in honor of the week.
Angela Chalkiopoulou, “Alice in Writer’s Land” LIMASSOL, CYPRUS
Writing, dancing, drawing, prancing… these are just a few activities you might see in educator Angela Chalkiopoulou’s classroom. Using the power of creativity and inquiry, Ms. Chalkiopoulou’s Alice in Writer’s Land project helps foster both a sense of wonder and resilience in the children of Limassol,Cyprus. Children explore the protagonist’s journey,guided by multimedia and questions that help them examine the story’s theme while developing their social and emotional skills.
Chalkiopoulou’s educational approach has since garnered nominations for national awards and serves as a foundation for a permanent collaboration with libraries in Ptolemaida and at the University of Cyprus in Nicosia.
It is our greatest honor to add to that list and award Angela Chalkiopoulou as the Grand Prize winner of the 2021 Freedom Through Literacy Award for jumping down the rabbit hole of creativity and learning with her inventive, inspirational program.
“This award is a testimony to the significant role that literacy plays in obtaining freedom, self esteem,human values and future hope. Literature is the absolute source of inspiration, the joy of human intellect, when combined with ingenious art and multimedia tool kits, it can transform a classroom into a small collaborating and learning society, offering the prospect of a hopeful future for all of us.” -Angela Chalkiopoulou
Joicki Floyd – “Y.O.U.T.H. (You Open Up Then Heal)” NEWARK, NEW JERSEY
With her philosophy of “reading is fun-to-da-mental(fundamental),” Ms. Joicki Floyd began her Y.O.U.T.H. programto enable students in finding motivation, positivity, and a love ofreading in the face of difficulty.Y.O.U.T.H. works with students who may not see themselves asreaders and uses strategies like Socratic Seminars, discussionpanels with city officials, and open mics, to spark change in theirmindsets. A crucial element is Joicki’s engagement with thecommunity; to her, seeing your neighbor or local store ownerwith a book in hand is as important as working directly withstudents. If everyone is a reader, it’s easy to join the club.We warmly recognize Joicki as winner of the 2021 Judith’sAward for her investment in building a culture of support andreading in her community.
“If you build libraries in the hearts of the youth, you will empower themwith points of reference that may change the trajectory of their lives.”– Joicki Floyd
Sue Goatley – “Jabulani Community Literacy Programme” ZAMBEZI REGION, VICTORIA FALLS, ZIMBABWE
Often times, a student without the proper support early in their schooling, may struggle to obtain the foundational literacy skills to advance their formal education. Sue Goatley, with her organization Children in the Wilderness, established an after school community literacy program for teenagers to change that outcome in the rural Zambezi region. We honor Sue with a Board Option Award to support her efforts in bringing essential reading skills to Zimbabwean youth.
“We look forward to adding vital literary resources to the library. The addition of books both from an adult literacy and locally relevant perspective will create long lasting impacts for this group that will be felt for years to come.”– Sue Goatley
Derek Witmer – “Diversity and InclusionLibrary” HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA
Second grade teacher Derek Witmer’s care and attention for honoring his students and their experiences has led to the creation of a curated library of books addressing important topics such as general diversity, acceptance, gender identity,and familial make ups. In recognition of his compassion, we award Derek with a Board Option Award
“Literature has the power to change the world, and I’m glad to be able to have an impact on the upcoming generations.”– Derek Witmer
Lisa Gerard – “Little Read Wagon” NORMAN, OKLAHOMA
Tackling communities with “book deserts” in the town of Norman,Oklahoma, Lisa Gerard began a mini library at a local laundromat in 2020. From there, the reading ball started rolling!Since that laundromat library, Lisa has added a lending library and a volunteer program in order to collect and distribute culturally relevant books at community events. In just one year,Lisa has distributed more than 10,000 books to children and adults. We proudly award Lisa a Board Option Award to celebrate her work towards building a reading community.
“This outreach program engages and inspires a great love for reading with a passionate ambition.”– Lisa Gerard
Winning Applications Highlighted Exceptional Creativity and Impact
July 22, 2021 — Ms. Angela Chalkiopoulou, Limassol, Cyprus, declared Grand Prize Winner of the 2021 Freedom Through Literacy Award. Chalkiopoulou, an educator, dominated the field of applicants with her literacy project, “Alice in Writer’s Land,” winning her the top prize of $2,500. A colleague described Angela as “a future literacy marvel and an excellent example of how creative teachers can turn inspiration into action, changing the way children perceive themselves towards literacy.” Alice in Writer’s Land collaborates with artists, educators, writers and illustrators—introducing the children of Cyprus to the writer’s way of thinking. “Literature is the absolute source of inspiration, the joy of human intellect, when combined with ingenious art and multimedia toolkits, it can transform a classroom into a small collaborating and learning society, offering the prospect of a hopeful future for all of us,” said Chalkiopoulou.
Ms. Joicki Floyd, Newark, New Jersey wins the 2021 Freedom Through Literacy “Judith’s Award.” Floyd, a high school teacher whose literacy initiative “Y.O.U.T.H.” (You Open Up Then Heal) seeks to transform the lives of inner city children and their families through reading is awarded $1,500. Joicki’s creative program includes the use of Socratic Seminars and discussion panels with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. She articulated the essential idea that in books, youth who lack hope and positive influences, can find positive motivation, examples and influences. “If you build libraries in the hearts of the youth, you will empower them with points of reference that may change the trajectory of their lives,” stated Floyd. The Judith’s Award is named in the memory of Judith F. Krug, a librarian who dedicated her career at the American Library Association to protecting the freedom of speech.
At the discretion of Judith’s Reading Room’s Board Members, each year, $1,000, is set aside for Board Option Awards to recognize high-scoring applicants. The winners of the 2021 Board Option Award are:
Ms. Sue Goatley, nonprofit leader, Children in the Wilderness, “Jabulani Community Literacy Programme,”in the Zambezi Region, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Goatley, a 2019 Board Option Award winner and recipient of Judith’s Reading Room’s 100th library dedicated July 2021 at Ziga Primary School, has once again captured the judges’ attention with her acute description — and solution — of adult illiteracy. She writes, “Seeing a young child struggle learning to read can often seem like an uphill battle. However, a truly heart-breaking scene is watching a young teen, new into high school, staring blankly at a page.” Goatley’s community literacy program at Jululani Primary School is an evening program available to teenagers and adults with any level of literacy. It also offers an opportunity for teachers to earn additional income. For her work to de-stigmatize adult illiteracy in isolated and rural Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe, Goatley wins a 2021 Board Option Award in the amount of $400.
Ms. Lisa Gerard, founder, Little Read Wagon, in Norman, Oklahoma.In 2020, Gerard had a kernel of an idea that grew into an ambitious grassroots outreach effort to supply new and donated books to children living in “book desert communities” in Norman and surrounding areas. Lisa built a mini “library” at a local laundromat then added a lending library and a volunteer program to collect and distribute culturally relevant books at community events. In just one year, Gerard has distributed more than 10,000 books to children and adults. Ms. Breea Clark, Mayor, City of Norman endorsed Gerard adding, “This outreach program engages and inspires a great love for reading with a passionate ambition in bridging the literacy gap in the Oklahoma City Metro area.” For her joyous, passionate and creative approach to getting books into the hands of her fellow citizens, Gerard wins a 2021 Board Option Award in the amount of $300.
Mr. Derek Witmer, 2nd Grade Teacher, “Diversity and Inclusion Library,” in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.Described by his Principal as “a conscientious and exemplary teacher, a true difference maker and a positive force in modern education,” Witmer initiated a collection of literature — a curated library — that touches on important topics such as general diversity, acceptance, gender identity, familial make ups, and SEL. This 2nd grade teacher didn’t stop there. Also included are stories where a student has a parent in prison, families dealing with immigration, language barriers and stories dealing with the loss of a parent. He enhanced the library by creating resources and discussion cards for teachers. It is no wonder that other schools in his district have reached out to him for help in adopting his Diversity and Inclusion Library. Derek believes that “Literature has the power to change the world, and I’m glad to be able to have an impact on the upcoming generations.” In recognition of his compassion toward students who experience and struggle through things that most of us can never truly understand, Witmer wins a 2021 Board Option Award in the amount of $300.
To encourage and propel certain 2021 applicants to continue their efforts and to re-apply for the 2022 Freedom Through Literacy Award, the judges declared the following Honorable Mentions (no cash award):
Ms. Lisette Caesar, Educator, “Mirroring our Kids,” in East Harlem, New York. Caesar’s project is to fill her classroom libraries with books that have protagonists that look like the children she educates. She emphasizes, “Kids asking us to provide more books about their culture or with characters that look like them — is a first for us.” In recognition of Caesar’s belief “that it is important that impressionable black and brown kids see themselves in positive ways in the books they read,” Judith’s Reading Room, through the Honorable Mention designation, wishes to give Caesar global recognition and encouragement.
Ms. Simon Ke, Executive Director, Anjali House, “Mobile Library Project,” in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Anjali House’s Mobile Library used tuk-tuks (a common mode of transportation in Cambodia) to reach over 850 students in remote villages. COVID restrictions have prevented its expansion. In recognition of their community outreach, Judith’s Reading Room seeks to bring global attention to the literacy work currently “stopped in its tracks” in this well-known tourist destination near Angkor Wat, where Judith’s Reading Room dedicated a library in May 2013.
Judith’s Reading Room’s mission is to enrich lives and societies by proactively encouraging Freedom Through Literacy. To date, the organization has fulfilled that mission by establishing 101 libraries (and counting!) in 22 countries with 130,500 books worth over $1.4 million.
The Freedom Through Literacy Award was initiated in 2015 as the organization’s signature event. Including the 2021 winners, the organization will have disbursed $43,500 in cash awards to 40 unique champions of literacy. Freedom Through Literacy Award winners — 2015-2021 — hail from the United States, the Philippines, Bhutan, Pakistan, Rwanda, Cambodia, Mexico, Australia, Zimbabwe, Greece and Cyprus.
Very much delayed but with much gratitude and excitement, we have finally been able to call Ziga Primary School’s library the 100th Judith’s Reading Room library! Due to schools been closed in Zimbabwe as a result of Covid-19 from March 2020 – March 2021, our much anticipated unveiling of Judith’s Reading Room’s 100th library at Ziga had to wait until we were able to visit schools again.
Thanks to the award that Ziga Primary won last year through Judith’s Reading Room, we were able to purchase 113 early reading books to add to the school library. The books were carefully chosen to suit the needs of the school and the students. There are just over 150 students enrolled at Ziga, from ages 5 – 14. Due to the low literacy levels in southern African schools, the Oxford University Press South Africa New Way early reading books provide an ideal platform from which to help students learn to read and gain comprehension skills. They have various levels that students can work through as they improve, and all the books are locally relevant stories full of pictures and bright colours. These were combined with other early reading books that have come highly recommended for southern Africa, creating a wonderful new addition of resources for the school library.
The books made a long journey themselves, all the way from Durban in South Africa, up to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. From Victoria Falls we then took them 230 kilometers to Ziga, which is located south of Hwange National Park on the western boundary of Zimbabwe.
Judith’s Reading Room partnered with the African non-profit organization, Children in the Wilderness, winner of its 2019 Freedom Through Literacy Award Board Option Prize. Thus began our relationship with Children in the Wilderness. In 2020, Judith’s Reading Room and Children in the Wilderness agreed to dedicate a Judith’s Reading Room library, knowing that it would be the organization’s 100th library in its 22nd country. Ziga Primary School, described as an outstanding pillar in their community — as its library also doubles as an adult literacy center — was chosen. The original plan was to dedicate the library in August 2020, but the pandemic got in the way. Schools in Zimbabwe closed in March 2020; children just returned to school for the first-time in a year.
A donation of US$500 to Children in the Wilderness resulted in the purchase of 113 level-specific books. Due to low literacy levels in southern African schools, books to help students learn to read and gain comprehension skills were of paramount importance. “The distribution of these books came as such a welcome surprise to the teachers and students at Ziga,” said Sarah Adams, Children in the Wilderness’s Community Sustainability & Evaluation Trainer. Sue Goatley, the organization’s Program Manager added, “We would like to say a huge thank you to Judith’s Reading Room for this wonderful gift that will continue to inspire children at Ziga for years to come.”
The mission of Judith’s Reading Room is to enrich lives and societies by proactively encouraging freedom through literacy. To date, the organization has fulfilled that mission by establishing 101 libraries in 22 countries with more than 130,000 books donated worth US$1.4 million.
Applications for the 2021 Freedom Through Literacy Award, the organization’s signature annual event, is posted on its website at www.judithsreadingroom.org. The deadline for applications is fast approaching: July 1, 2021. Winners will be announced by the end of July.