Click on a name to the right to learn more about our Fifth Annual Literacy Hero winners.
Youth Literacy Hero
Bailey MorgansteinBailey Morganstein is a petite 11-year-old, but her accomplishments dwarf those of some people twice her age and size. Her talent with words is unmistakable. Her enthusiasm for reading and writing is even larger than the stacks of books she lugs from classroom to classroom. She eagerly spreads the word about new book discoveries with friends, classmates, and even her two dogs, Matrix and Selena.
In second grade, Bailey wrote a letter to her Language Arts teacher. Carefully printed in a child’s rounded script, it began:
Dear Mrs. Struebing,
I would like to start a reading class book club. We love to read so I thought our class would like a reading class book club.
The letter went on to lay out plans for club operations and a suggested list of adventure books for reading and discussion. It concluded, Love, Bailey.
Mrs. Struebing was amenable to the idea. With her help, Bailey founded a book club that is now in its fourth year.
These days, club members take turns choosing the books for the group to read. (Adventure books are still a favorite.) Bailey tracks the books chosen and the ratings students give them; she even computes and records the average rating members give each book. (Look out, “Oprah’s Picks”!)
Moreover, success has inspired imitation. Last year another book club, based on Bailey’s model, was born. In its first meeting, 16 third graders — previously reluctant readers, according to their teacher—enthusiastically discussed a book they’d read during free time.
As one small spark can start a fire, the contagious spark of Bailey’s love of reading is illuminating the world of books and learning for others. For this, she has earned the 2010 Youth Literacy Hero Award.
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Community Impact Hero Winner
Nelly Arevalo-JimenezIn many Chester County families, teaching toddlers to sing the “A-B-Cs” and helping them spell out names with magnetic alphabet letters or wooden blocks are cherished pastimes. In some families in our community, however, such activities don’t routinely happen—because a language barrier or lack of education prevents parents from preparing a child for school. Nelly Arévalo-Jiménez is dedicated to changing that situation.
Nelly is the director – and the soul – of the Kennett Square Family Center, which opened its doors in 2006. A program of the Maternal and Child Health Consortium, the center provides parenting education and schoolreadiness programs for low-income families, including many recent immigrants from Mexico.
Each year, Nelly and her team of staff and volunteers deliver services to more than 100 families with preschool children. They address early-literacy tasks designed to prepare children for success in kindergarten and later grades – writing the alphabet and numbers, sitting at a desk, and following a teacher’s instructions. They help parents complete a Kennett Consolidated School District kindergarten registration form.
On any given day, Nelly carries out a myriad of educational activities. On home visits, she delivers crayons and paper. She coaches parents to read to their children. At the Family Center, she conducts developmental screenings and designs program curriculum. And in summer she also runs the Kindergarten Transition program, which she started in 2008.
Some evenings, Nelly leads a special program she introduced to help children, parents, and other community members share the love of reading. At each “Night of Dreams,” adults and pajama-clad youngsters gather under a star-decorated ceiling for story time and puppet shows. Every child leaves the event with a book donated by a community member.
Nelly Arévalo-Jiménez is committed to ensuring that when children enter school, they are prepared to succeed.
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Local Author Literacy Hero
Bruce LarkinBruce Larkin hands over the keys to the kingdom, wrapped in irresistible sparkly packaging, to small children. The books he writes for pre-kindergarten to second-grade readers are intended to help them learn to read and read to learn. Each paperback includes bright pictures or funny illustrations, plus a spoonful of humor reflecting his earlier years as a professional stand-up comic.
One place humor dependably appears is the author blurb at the end of every book. For example, Apples Are Tasty (publication Fall 2010) features first-grade-level facts about apples—where they come from, ways to eat them. On the inside back cover, this biographical tall tale appears: “Bruce sleeps on a large warm apple pie during the winter.”
Bruce has authored more than 700 books, both fiction and non-fiction, for beginner readers. His company, Wilbooks, produces these volumes with the help of the employees he affectionately calls “the Book Monkeys.”
Bruce wants to ensure that all children can own a book to read. Children in 50,000 schools in 91 countries practically devour his books, and he has donated more than 400,000 copies to educational institutions around the U. S. More than 10,000 have gone to La Communidad Hispana in Kennett Square. He has also donated books to the West Chester Public Library.
Of the philosophy behind his books and his motivation to donate them, Bruce says, “I was always a reader, even when I struggled to find ways not to do my homework, or when I cheered as the school bus got stuck in the snow. I try to make reading fun—to help kids learn without fighting their natural curiosity...so that they’re not trying to find an excuse to put the book down, but want to find out what’s on every page.”
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Corporate Good Neighbor Literacy Hero
Chatham FinancialIn 2005, Chatham Financial founder and CEO Mike Bontrager adopted a first grade class at Mary D. Lang Elementary School in Kennett Square. He encouraged employees of his firm – a global financial risk management firm consulting to large corporations, real estate firms, and regional banks – to read to students and practice math exercises with them on company time.
By 2007, that one-company / one-classroom collaboration evolved into a partnership called “Together 4 Education.” Registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, it brings together individual volunteers and community organizations — such as the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library, the Even Start family-literacy program, and The Garage Community and Youth Center (a “recycled” downtown auto-repair shop offering a range of after-school programs for middle- and high-schoolers) – to support the Kennett Consolidated School District and its students.
The achievements of Together 4 Education are stellar. For example, last summer it partnered with the library, the Krapf bus company, teachers, and volunteers for a five week program to help at-risk elementary schoolchildren retain their reading skills. It polls its partner organizations about volunteer needs, then circulates the combined list throughout the community. It initiated a community project to collect backpacks for needy schoolchildren. In short, it’s been a catalyst in making education in Kennett Square a community effort: connecting volunteers with service needs, empowering businesses to work with educators and students, and linking organizations that share the goal of an educated, healthy, prosperous society.
And Chatham Financial continues to support that effort. Providing the foundation for Together 4 Education, encouraging and enabling employees to volunteer in classrooms during school hours and at the Garage Community and Youth Center after school, even donating books to help youngsters build their own home libraries (and become regular readers), the company provides an ongoing model of service and goodwill.
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Education Literacy Hero
Wilma SantosA caseworker in the West Chester Area School District for nearly 30 years, Wilma Santos is a vital part of its effort to promote literacy and overall educational success. To teachers in the district, she is a mentor; to students and their families, a supporter; to the community, a role model.
Personal history is one motivator for Wilma. She came to West Chester from Puerto Rico as a young teen whose strong accent added to the challenge of “fitting in” to a new community. Her memories of those days inform her work and strengthen her passion for helping others.
Wilma helps both novice and experienced teachers by filling them in on students’ cultural differences, and by translating at parent-teacher conferences. She assists Spanish-speaking families by communicating with them about school policies and expectations in such areas as grades, attendance, dress code, and discipline.
But language and culture aren’t the only potential barriers to education. So Wilma makes sure students have winter coats, book bags, and lunches – and, if a child has missed the morning bus, may provide a ride to school.
A voice and resource for any family with weak links to the school community, Wilma provides language support at meetings about students’ Individual Education Plans and meals for families experiencing hardship. She encourages parents to learn English and refers them to adult English classes.
Wilma works to bridge cultural divides beyond the school district, too. For example, two years ago, she participated in a community-wide diversity program at the YWCA to highlight Hispanic countries’ customs and to link local Spanish-speaking families.
For her dedication to bringing out the best in community members, and her willingness to go the extra mile for students, Wilma Santos is the 2010 WCPL Literacy Hero in Education.
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Adult Literacy Hero
Carol KlaussCarol Klauss was teaching English to a Korean immigrant when she learned that the woman and her family were confused and upset about critical comments on their daughter’s school report card. Carol realized that the criticisms reflected a lack of familiarity with Korean culture, and that a conversation could remedy the misunderstanding. So she hosted a round-table discussion for the school staff about cultural differences, resulting in greater awareness and heightened respect on all sides.
This and similar meetings on behalf of Russian and Vietnamese families are just one facet of Carol’s work with the Volunteer English Program (VEP) of Chester County. The award-winning program—whose motto is “Supporting Self-Sufficiency, Transforming Lives” – provides tutoring in English-language skills and assistance in understanding American culture to approximately 225 adult immigrants and refugees each year.
During nearly 20 years with VEP, Carol has not only served several leadership roles but trained tutors and worked one-on-one with students who have gone on to become valuable contributors to our society. One immigrant from Vietnam, for example, was working in a nail salon when she came to VEP. Learning of her ambition to become a teacher, Carol guided the young woman through the process of obtaining a job as a teacher’s aide and applying to college for an education degree. Today she teaches public school in Chester County.
Carol Klauss helps some of our most vulnerable yet most promising new neighbors overcome the tremendous challenge that one student expressed as “No language, no life.” Her enthusiasm and dedication to the work of improving English literacy in Chester County, one person at a time, makes life better for our entire community.
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Innovation/Technology Literacy Hero
Karen Truncellito“Simon says, ‘Say this sound.’” Karen Truncellito points to a card with the letter “e.” A group of kindergarteners giggles and responds gleefully. Hours later, Karen sits at a desk with an older student, reviewing and reading aloud a vocabulary list.
Karen Truncellito is a dynamic educator who has developed an innovative approach for teaching children to read. Initially inspired by her son, who has reading challenges, she designed a solution to help struggling students become successful readers. She calls her unique method of combining vowels and consonants the “inside out” approach to reading.
Her program, Easy Steps to Reading, is comprehensive. It unites solid teaching techniques and fun, interactive exercises for building skills. The materials she’s developed for the program include detailed teaching instruction and a vast range of ideas: resources for early intervention to prevent reading failure, hints for motivating youngsters to read independently and for developing selfconfidence, and ways to meet individual needs of children with ADHD, learning differences, or memory challenges.
Kids enjoy the learning activities and become excited about reading as they experience positive results. A teacher who used Karen’s program said that her students’ reading sessions changed from experiences of frustration to occasions of happiness and success.
Recently, Karen has been actively involved in introducing her program to the Chester County Family Academy, a public charter school for kindergarten through second-grade students, a majority of whose families are financially challenged. Along with her curriculum she brings a wealth of experience and deep reserves of patience and perseverance. Her students are making significant strides.
What makes all this work worthwhile for Karen? “Seeing children’s smiles when they are successful in the classroom,” she said. “It’s a joy to be part of the learning process.”
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Uniformed Services Literacy Hero
Tracy CarterLockheed Martin Corporation is helping to strengthen the quality of life in Chester County and beyond. The company contributes $26 million annually to nonprofit organizations and projects, and its employees volunteer generously – logging more than 6 million hours just since 2002 – for a variety of causes.
Among those causes is literacy-related support for members of the U.S. military. Lockheed Martin’s “United in Gratitude” initiative includes a wide range of programs, such as collecting books and tapes for troops stationed overseas and stocking the Philadelphia Airport USO Center with reading material for service members and their families awaiting flights.
Another program in partnership with the USO touches hearts as well as minds. “United through Reading” arranges for deployed service members to read and record books on videotape. Their families receive the tapes, plus copies of the books, free of charge.
One family that “United through Reading” has helped maintain close connections over time and distance is that of U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Matthew St. John. Before departing Willow Grove for Iraq, Corporal St. John regularly read bedtime stories to his children, Rebecca, 6, and Ethan, 3. After his deployment, the videos his family received of him reading such favorites as Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar let them hear his voice and see his eyes – and “know I was safe,” St. John said. For him, the recordings provided a way to have a feeling of presence and continuity in their lives. And, thanks to the program, one day in Iraq he received a surprise: a video of his children reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to him.
Through such strategic programs and extraordinary volunteerism, Lockheed Martin supports the well-being of our community and our uniformed services at home and abroad.