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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
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.