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Brainerd Public Schools: Board learns about revamped summer reading program

Brainerd School Board members listen to presenters at their meeting Monday, Sept. 10, at the Washington Educational Services Building. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

About $40,000.

That's the amount of money Jill Bjorge hopes to raise for next year's summer reading program in the Brainerd School District.

Bjorge, the district's elementary literacy coordinator and trainer, shared with school board members Monday, Sept. 10, the success of this past year's revamped summer reading program.

After meeting with the district advisory council last fall, which consists of school board Chair Ruth Nelson and several parents, to discuss how to keep kids reading over the summer, Bjorge said the district's literacy coaches got together and planned for the summer. The group gathered about $18,000 in grants and donations from elementary parent-teacher associations and local companies, allowing the district to open libraries at each elementary school and Forestview Middle School for two hours a week this summer. Students could go in and check out books.

More than 1,000 students signed in at the libraries. Bjorge said some weeks so many kids came the Chromebook sign-in process didn't go fast enough to count everyone.

"Prior to the districtwide summer reading program, all of the buildings were doing something," Bjorge said. "This year we just started to firm it up a little bit so there's more access for all of our learners."

The effects of increased access to books didn't go unnoticed when the summer ended.

"I heard a story (Monday) of a Baxter child with special needs who came every single week," Bjorge said. "And when he came back ... to school, he's actually reading at a higher level than what he was reading when he left us in the spring. His passion was ignited."

The summer reading program also included various book-related activities at the different schools, allowing students to come together and talk about books they read.

"Our push was more than just summer reading. Our push was a more social, cultural piece for our area," Bjorge said. "What we really need is to get books in the hands of kids and to create a culture of the fact that reading shouldn't stop in the summer. This really is a very social activity. So when kids go out on the playground, they often talk about movies or TV shows. But how can we get kids to start talking about books that they've read?"

But what about students who weren't able to get to a library during the summer? Bjorge's group thought about that, too, and identified those children before the school year ended.

"We sat down with each of the children," she said, "and we ordered books of their choice, so then on the last day of school, they walked away with 12-14 books for the summer."

This past summer's events were just the start of what Bjorge hopes to grow into an even bigger program next year.

"My goal for this next year is (to raise) about $40,000," she said, "so that we can ensure that we get books in the hands of every single child."

In other business Monday, the board:

Learned Nisswa Elementary School was voted as one of the Best Schools in the Brainerd Dispatch's Best of the Brainerd Lakes contest.

Approved a new gymnastics contract with the Crosby-Ironton and Pequot Lakes school districts. The board previously dissolved its gymnastic contracts with other districts but agreed to bring it back for the sake of gymnasts in Crosby-Ironton and Pequot Lakes who didn't have another place to practice the sport.

Approved the hiring of certified staffers Stephanie Chamtcheu, Title I interventionist at St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School; Andrew Dwyer, video productions teacher at Brainerd High School; and Ann Hunnicutt, special education at Forestview.

Approved the hiring of non-certified staffers Joanna Allen, special education educational assistant at Riverside Elementary School; Pam Cook, special education educational assistant at Riverside; Candace Elmore, dishwasher/assistant cook at Nisswa; David Hallgren, special education educational assistant at Forestview; Tami Hanson, special education educational assistant at Forestview; Jessica Hardy, special education educational assistant at Forestview; Amber Herve, special education educational assistant at Riverside; Laura Lusti, dishwasher/assistant cook at Forestview; Nicholas O'Reilly, special education educational assistant; Amy Paske, special education educational assistant; Gretchen Snow, special education educational assistant; Sarah Swecker, special education educational assistant; and Denice Tautges, special education educational assistant.

Accepted the resignations and retirements of Krystal Berns, special education educational assistant at Forestview, resignation; Mary Espersen, special education educational assistant at BHS, retirement; Laura Ostrowski Anderson, interpreter at Riverside, resignation.

Accepted gifts and donations to the district: $500 from Crow Wing Energized for workplace wellness at Baxter Elementary School; $210 from Daniel Brodin and $110 from Julie Sager for student activities at Garfield Elementary School; materials, labor and time from Baratto Brothers for a gaga ball pit at Forestview; $110 from Country Fabrics for the student pantry at Forestview; school supplies from Tom Harrigan, Bethel Lutheran Church, Brainerd American Legion, Cygneture Title Solutions LLC, Trinity Lutheran Church, Church of the Nazarene and the Brainerd Dispatch for Harrison Elementary School; $35 from the Brainerd Dispatch for student activities at Harrison Elementary; $100 from Garrison Lions Club, $50 from Betty Sieckert and $1,000 from Dorcas for milk money at Harrison; $2,000 for student needs and $311 from Dorcas for books at Harrison.