VESL - Volunteers for Elementary School Literacy
VESL keeps kids reading in district elementary schools
It’s just another busy morning in the media center at Stonebridge Elementary School. The media specialist is helping several students with their research projects, while also giving a lesson on keyboarding skills to another group. Several giant stacks of books are piled on the counter as kids return last week’s reading materials, and a line forms at the desk as they wait to check out this week’s favorites. As the teacher gets pulled in four different directions, the stack of books gets ever taller. How can she ever keep up?
Enter the VESL (Volunteers for Elementary School Literacy) volunteers from the Stillwater Sunrise Rotary Club.
Now into our fourth school year, SSR Rotarians along with community volunteers who have learned of our VESL program devote hours of their time volunteering in four of the school district's elementary schools; Stonebridge, Rutherford, Andersen and Brookview elementary schools. Each week volunteers restock the library shelves with hundreds of books, assist in checking out other books, and work with students to find materials on bookshelves. However, the volunteers spend the majority of their time assisting teachers in grades Kindergarten through third grade by reading with students and helping them practice their literacy skills; all with the goal in mind of bringing our students to grade level reading before they reach fourth grade.
“We got started because there is a big need here,” Dave Waldschmidt said. “There’s a big need from the standpoint of kids needing more time to read. And there is a big need here because the media center staff has been reduced.”
Over the years, budget cuts and changes in programming and state standards have had an impact on media centers in the district. Media specialists have become few and far between and those that remain split their time between two or even three buildings. With their limited time in each school being focused on instructing students, there is very little time left for reading with students, checking in books or restocking the shelves.
“Shelving books seems mundane,” said a retired educator and Sunrise Rotarian. “But our work keeps books available for kids. If they aren’t shelved, they cannot be found or checked out.”
The media center volunteer program began as an idea from a staff member as part of the district’s annual Idea Quest. A team of staff members identified the issues that arise because of short staffing in the media centers and developed a solution for elementary schools that involved reaching out to the community for help. The Stillwater Sunrise Rotary Club heard of the need and the VESL program was born. The program was piloted at two schools initially, but now, in its fourth year has expanded with tremendous support from the community to the four schools mentioned above.
Community members interested in participating in the VESL program are encouraged to use the website Contact Us link to request more information.