A BENDIGO-BASED literacy expert has highlighted the importance of school libraries, amid Book Week celebrations.
“We know the kinds of language and literacy experiences children have had in preschool years are very important in setting them up for success once they get to school,” Professor Pamela Snow said.
“For some children, exposure to books only really happens in a big way when they get to school.”
Professor Snow, who heads the La Trobe University Rural Health School, said school libraries were of fundamental importance to all children, but especially those who had limited text exposure.
“We want all children to become readers,” she said.
“Not everybody grows up to read for pleasure, but that should be a matter of choice, not a matter of circumstance.
“Immersion in literacy is important for helping children to understand the what and why of books.”
She said reading books helped children discover more about the world in which they lived, and to take them beyond their own world and to stimulate the imagination.
“It introduces them to new vocabulary, introduces them to more complex sentence structure.
“There are enormous benefits to immersion in literacy.”
Lightning Reef Primary School was seeing the benefits of an emphasis on reading, school principal Julie Hommelhoff said: “I can see things are changing.”
Challenges faced by the school community include unemployment and low literacy levels.
The Lightning Reef Primary School library is the primary source of books for most of the 190-odd students.
Some of the students have access to reading materials outside of school. But, for most, the selection of books stocked by the school is the only catalogue readily available to them.
“We have a limited selection of books here,” Ms Hommelhoff said.
She said most of the funding the school received went to staffing.
Dymocks Children’s Charities general manager Paul Swain said there was a strong correlation between school library budgets and literacy levels both in Australia and in libraries worldwide.
“Unfortunately research shows that most Australian school library budgets have either remained unchanged or declined in recent years,” Mr Swain said.
“This means that old books aren’t being replaced and children don’t have access to new releases which keep them motivated as readers.
“High quality books are often unavailable at home so schools are relied on to provide them.”
School Library Association of Victoria executive officer Dr Susan La Marca said school library provision varied enormously between schools, statewide.
“Each school is given funding that must support a range of programs for their community,” Dr La Marca said.
“How they distribute that funding is up to each individual school administration. This impacts on the resources and staffing of each school library.”
She said demands on a school’s budget generally exceeded the funds available.
“We all want all students to have access to excellent programs in the classroom and in a range of co-curricular areas and this results in the school library competing for funds with many other, also highly worthy, programs,” she said.
“School libraries and trained school library staff support learning of all kinds, they foster and enrich literacy and support inquiry learning and research skills across the curriculum.
“A school library can also be a cultural space, an area of community enrichment and exploration.”
Lightning Reef Primary School was chosen as the beneficiary of a library regeneration by Dymocks Bendigo as part of the bookstore chain’s Books for Kids campaign.
The campaign saw $1 from every children’s book sold at Dymocks stores from August 4 – 12 donated to literacy programs run by Dymocks Children’s Charities.
Dymocks Bendigo raised $1000 during the campaign and other community fundraising efforts in the past year.
The children’s charity doubled the value to deliver $2000 worth of books to Lightening Reef Primary School.
“We know that reading is an essential life skill and supporting children’s literacy is a key component of our community engagement,” Dymocks Bendigo franchise owner Harry Hart said.
The donation is likely to take place in the final term of the school year.
“The school has a list over 1400 books to choose from so the students will be busy in the next couple of weeks choosing the new books themselves,” Mr Swain said.
“Library Regeneration helps reduce any gaps between children from different socio-economic backgrounds by giving access to all.”
Eligibility for Dymocks Children’s Charities programs is determined by the school’s Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage.
The ICSEA value assigned to schools reflects the socio-educational backgrounds of students.
Factors that determine the values include the education and occupation of parents, the school’s geographical location, and the proportion of Indigenous students.
Students at schools with high ICSEA values generally have higher levels of educational advantage than students at schools with low ICSEA values.
The benchmark is 1000.
Ms Hommelhoff said the school’s multiculturalism was one of its strengths.
Last year, 19 per cent of students at Lightning Reef had a language background other than English, and 10 per cent were Indigenous Australians.
Ms Hommelhoff said the school had more than 50 Karen students this year, whose proficiency in English ranged from none to fluent.
“They are very receptive children, they really want to learn,” she said.
“They are helping the rest of the community to become better learners”
She said the Karen community valued education and was having a ‘really beautiful’ influence on the school.
More than 30 Indigenous Australian students attend the school, as well as families from other nationalities.
“Everyone is very accepting of one another,” Ms Hommelhoff said.
“The kids are very good at helping one another.”
She said the school also devoted extra supports to social and emotional wellbeing.
Professor Snow said immersion in literacy was important for helping children to understand the how and why of books. But, on its own, it wouldn’t teach them how to read.
“This immersion in literacy needs to sit alongside really effective, targeted, explicit instruction, particularly for children starting from behind,” she said.
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