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School of Education

The University of Delaware Student Literacy Council has received the International Literacy Association’s Honor Council Award.

The tagline for the University of Delaware’s Student Literacy Council (SLC) says it all — “Promoting literacy, unlocking potential.”

For seven years, students in the SLC have been infusing children with a love of reading through local, community and international literacy outreach.

In recognition of their consistent contributions to the community, the International Literacy Association (ILA) presented the UD SLC with their sixth Honor Council Award. The Honor Council Program recognizes local, student and special interest councils that promote literacy in innovative ways to the community.

The SLC has established a library at the West End Neighborhood House (WENH) in Wilmington, Delaware, that serves the children of the community. They conduct read-alouds for children in kindergarten to third grade and serve as pen pals, encouraging them to practice literacy skills.

“We started a small library seven years ago, with a collection of gently used books,” said Marsha Baumeister, SLC faculty adviser and an assistant professor in the School of Education. “Fortunately, Andrew Leeson, stationed in Baghdad, learned of our efforts through a UDaily article. He and his brother made multiple generous donations in honor of their mother, Connie, who had been a school librarian.”

Subsequently the SLC was able to purchase new books, Kindles and e-books for the WEHN Connie Leeson Memorial Library, as well as host author-visits at which children performed dramas and experienced writers’ workshops.

Stephanie Jennis, a junior English education major, and Camille Fontenelle, a 2016 graduate in elementary teacher education, served as SLC co-presidents this past year.

“Our collaboration with West End enable us to be change makers. We inspire the children to not only practice their literacy skills but to reach for the stars and set goals that enable them to realize their own, immense potential,” said Jennis. “In turn, the children inspire us to fight for what we believe in, to challenge paradigms and, together, we help spread the power of literacy to youth who are often denied that opportunity.”

As part of their international initiative, the group collaborated with the Mon Repos Roman Catholic Combined School in St. Lucia. They donated books to the K-6 school, helping to expand students’ imaginations by sharing stories from other countries and diverse ways of life.

“One of the factors that made this award so special is that all of the hard work and dedication we put in during the semester truly paid off. Now we will be able to expand our mission further and make an even greater impact,” said Fontenelle.

Having graduated this spring, Fontenelle is planning to travel to the Dominican Republic in the fall. There, she will work with a non-profit group called Yspaniola that provides quality educational opportunities to the children of Batey Libertad, an impoverished community outside of Esperanza. She is seeking sponsors this summer to help cover the expense of the nine-month internship.

In the upcoming year, the SLC is looking to create a co-illustrated and co-authored book with the children at WENH to further expand their mission. They hope to inspirer other students to initiate similar projects in their schools and communities. In addition, they have set a goal to find ways to help children and families without homes to practice literacy, reading to one another, and bring transportable libraries to community style soup kitchens.

“As their adviser, I am extremely proud of the initiative, leadership and valuable outreach these students have provided to support community and international literacy,” said Baumeister.

About UD’s Student Literacy Council

The Student Literacy Council of UD is a nonprofit volunteer organization that promotes and supports developing literacy skills throughout the world.

The membership consists mostly of education majors, although there are also students from the health sciences, environmental and engineering fields – anyone who is interested in serving the community.

The SLC is an affiliate of the Diamond State Literacy Association (DSLA). Both the SLC and the DSLA are affiliates of the ILA.

Article by Harpreet Kaur

Photo courtesy of Kathy F. Atkinson

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