Literacy grant helping Nisichawayasihk school provide more books and support reading recovery

Otetiskewin Kiskinwamahtowekamik (OK) school in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation has been supporting student literacy during the COVID-19 pandemic with help from an $80,000 literacy grant to improve its library and support reading programs from the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation.

The three-year grant will help the school expand a library loan program and support the reading recovery program for all grades. The school already started an after-school reading club for students from grades 1-4 last year to encourage them to view reading as something fun and not simply schoolwork.

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It will also ensure that there are more books available to students.

“Because of COVID we have been locked in our communities since October and access to books is very limited,” said Natalie Tays of OK school in a video featuring some of the 30 foundation grant recipients from across Canada.

OK school received their grant because of their vision of how to use the library to promote literacy in the community, says Indigo Love of Reading Foundation executive director Rose Lipton.

“We usually consider a combination of what is the need for the books themselves but also what is the vision and the plan and I think this had a really strong plan to leverage in-school programs as well as after-school programs and I know there is a vision to support their reading recovery program for all grades and enhance their school library,” she told the Thompson Citizen. “There was just a great amount of programs and a lot of ideas and a lot of enthusiasm for literacy and that’s exactly what we look for.”

The intent of Indigo foundation literacy grants is to address underfunding of public school libraries and to transform recipient school’s facilities now and into the future.

“That’s the kind of impact we want to have so that at the end of the three-year partnership that we have with schools there’s been a massive difference in the school library for the young people that are attending today but also so that young people for many many years to come will be able to benefit,” Lipton says.

As important as literacy is for everyone at any time, it’s even more vital in the COVID-19 pandemic era, when schools were often providing remote learning only, and in smaller communities where students don’t have the same access to books as youth in the city.

“The main purpose is to help provide access to books across Canada and also to provide access to the right kind of books … diverse books or books that are reflective of their student population,” Lipton says.

Since being established in 2004, the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation has committed about $33 million to more than 3,000 high-needs schools across Canada.

But the money and books are only part of the equation, Lipton says. Equally important is the dedication of teachers and librarians to promoting literacy among students.

“We really made sure the schools we partnered with had a plan to ensure that, regardless [of pandemic-related challenges] they would get books into the hands of kids and all of our school partners really did an amazing job of that,” Lipton says. “It’s been pretty inspiring and pretty amazing. … how much perseverance they’ve shown to really do whatever they could to keep kids learning as challenging as it has been.”

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