GLOVERSVILLE – Erica Gauer was a reading and classroom teacher in the City of Albany School District for 24 years. She’s seen what books can do for young children, particularly those from low-income families.
On Tuesday morning, after two years of waiting, a project to create more opportunities for early engagement with reading came to fruition at Gloversville Public Library.
During the early months of 2020, now an assistant professor in Fulton-Montgomery Community College’s Early Childhood Education program, Gauer saw the initiatives her local library was pursuing locally and was inspired to create a similar project in one of her courses for communities near the college.
“Sometimes parents don’t know what their role is and how important it is. One of the biggest differences is what happens before school even starts,” Gauer said. “So, if we can provide opportunities for families to engage in emergent literacy skills, before they ever come to school in a way that’s developmentally appropriate, I think the more opportunities kids have to engage in those kinds of things, the better off they are.”
Gauer then reached out to the library, as well as the Friends of Gloversville Public Library, a not-for-profit that helps the library in its mission, and its president Jean La Porta, a longtime pre-kindergarten teacher, looking to collaborate.
She had the idea to put together backpacks with children’s books, toys and packets of information and fun activities that would go to the library, where families could take advantage of the resources. She was hoping the Friends of Gloversville Public Library could provide a donation and, according to La Porta, they were excited to help.
However, as with so many things in early 2020, the coronavirus pandemic would quickly put the project on hold. This semester though, everything was finally in place to begin. Gauer and six students in her Children’s Literature class put together three literacy bags and made the delivery.
First-year student Sophia Himpsl of Mayfield has personal experience with the importance of reading with young children. She said she grew up in poverty with four brothers and her parents. They made sure her and her siblings were playing outside three hours a day but, when it came to reading, Himpsl would only point at the pictures when her mom asked her what her favorite part of a story was. She is grateful to her reading teachers who were incredibly helpful to her when she was young. She wishes she had something like these backpacks growing up.
Now, she thinks of bringing her nephew to the Gloversville library this summer and taking him through the backpacks because he’s in pre-K and struggles a lot, she said.
“I’ll be honest with you, before I even came to college, I did not know that reading to a child was important as it is. Because when I was growing up, I wasn’t interested in reading. So it was I would just like, throw the book to the side…,” Himpsl said. “I’m definitely going to, if I end up having children, read to them and try to get my nephew into reading more.”
Gauer said she plans to keep doing this project each spring semester, and La Porta said the Friends of Gloversville Public Library are hoping to continue supporting the work. The Foundation of FMCC also donated financially to the project, and the library itself donated the backpacks. All of the books were donated by FMCC faculty and staff.
“I hope these books just benefit all these kids and, the more kits that students make, it makes these kids want to come back the next day to go look at another kit and just open the big package and see what’s inside the other one,” said first-year student Anfield Gannon.
All of the books that were not put into the backpacks were put into book boxes the students made and brought to local laundromats in Gloversville, Amsterdam and Johnstown. Each box has an informational handout from the National Association for the Education of Young People titled, “Fun Ways to Build Your Child’s Literacy Skills While Doing Laundry Together.”
“That’s a place where kids tend to spend a lot of time and may not have access to books otherwise,” Gauer said. “So those will be permanently left there with a note on how to support literacy while doing laundry, what the kit is for, how you can take a book or take it with you, if you choose, you can add another one back, there’s some simple directions on how do you go about it.”
La Porta mentioned that the Friends of Gloversville Public Library have brought books to barber shops, the YMCA, Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market, and other places, too. First-year student Kersten Brockhum hopes one day there will be books everywhere.
The library itself just opened its Early Literacy Center in February and has some reading kits it’s preparing to reintroduce to patrons as well. Librarian Nicole Hauser said the circulation details for the FMCC kits have not been sorted out but, while a library card is usually needed, she said anyone can use any materials in house at any time. She also said the library is always working to give every kid more access to books and these new kits the students made will be a part of that this summer.
“We’re gearing up for summer reading to bring kids over the summer and hopefully, they’ll get to see these and they’ll experience success,” she said.