In 2008, the Board supported an initiative with an even broader community impact: The fourth grade’s Somerset Sacks project. The teachers requested a grant to order reusable fabric bags as part of their study of recycling and the environment. They planned to have the children sell the bags at a price above cost and donate the profits to an organization committed to improving the health of our environment. By underwriting the initial cost of these bags, the Board sought to fulfill two parts of its mission: supporting academics, in this case, science; and supporting community service, in this case, environmental awareness.
Teachers’ Comments on the Somerset Sacks
“We have deeply appreciated the unwavering support shown by the Somerset Foundation. The fourth grade was very fortunate to receive seed money to allow us to develop our service learning project, the sale of Somerset Sacks. This project provided opportunities to teach students about the importance of helping to protect the environment by limiting our use of plastic bags by switching to reusable sacks.”
The Foundation voted to fund the first grade’s Book in a Bag program in 2006, and approved funds to purchase additional books in 2008. This is a take-home book program designed to build reading fluency and involve parents in the process of learning to read. All first graders are involved. Research shows that especially in early readers, reading repeated familiar text builds fluency, including the recognition of sight words. In later reading levels, reading for expended periods of time like 15 to 20 minutes builds endurance and concentration.
Several times a week the students bring home one just right book in a bag from the classroom collection. In most cases this book will be at their independent reading level. Students are to read the book for about 15 minutes. In the case of easier or shorter books this means students will read the book 3 or 4 times. In longer books, students will read the book one time to complete the selection. Students need to return the book in the bag to school the following day. First graders may read to parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and babysitters. The most important part of this program is to read!
According to first grade teacher Amy Shapiro, who proposed this program: “The addition of the Book in the Bag Program has allowed first graders the opportunity to bring home books on their instructional reading level to share with families. As a result of this program parents are involved and included in their children’s process of learning to read. For the students, having the chance to select books to bring home that reflect their interest has been motivating. This program has allowed them to read material at home that is matched to their “just right reading level” where they feel safe and successful. For the parents the book in a bag program has eliminated the challenge of trying to find books that interest their children and that are matched to the child’s instructional reading level. The Book in the Bag Program has strengthened the home school connection.”
As part of its community outreach mission, The Somerset Foundation gave a $1000 grant to Westland Middle School during their campaign to raise money for whiteboards for the school in 2007.
The Foundation has underwritten the cost of a professional education library for the teachers, and in the fall of 2007 and 2008, sponsored an important teacher professional development opportunity — Dr. Janet Richardson’s highly regarded guided reading seminars. The teacher feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Please see below:
Teacher Feedback on Training
“This was by far the best guided reading training I have attended in my ten years of teaching. Thank you.”
“Overall, the training was wonderful. . .”
“Since this is my first year teaching, I have gained a lot from this workshop. I became more aware of wh to focus on in my guided reading groups as well as how to address students’ needs.”
“These workshops were, on the whole, the most helpful training that I’ve been a part of in Montgomery County.”
“This training was excellent — probably the most helpful and useful in specific ways that I have been a part of in my 13 years of teaching.”