ROCKINGHAM — With books stacked on nearly every surface, Joanetta Ingram’s classroom is a reader’s paradise, and it’s her West Rockingham Elementary School second-graders who are the greatest benefactors.
With (more than) 10 years of teaching experience, Ingram understands the importance of increasing a child’s reading achievement. But thanks to her UNC Pembroke Reading Education Masters Program, she’s looking at things a bit differently now.
As part of her program’s leadership project, Ingram was tasked with finding a need at her school. So she sent a survey to see how many books each of her students actually had at their home.
“Several didn’t have too many,” explained Ingram. “But I knew getting books in their houses and parents involved reading with them could be huge.”
So what did Ingram do? She took to DonorsChoose.org — a website that allows people from all over the globe to directly donate to public school classrooms and the projects that inspire their students.
“Despite the challenges so many face outside of school, my second graders have a desire to learn,” she said. “My goal was not only to help our students increase their reading achievement, but also help them see themselves in books.”
Ingram’s project was fully funded; therefore, she was able to purchase 147 books that relate to students on both a cultural and gender-specific avenue.
“Often times the books that are cute have a neatly packaged happy ending, but life isn’t like that,” said Ingram. “I think it’s important for my students to be able to see themselves, their situations, their cultural backgrounds and their socioeconomic statuses portrayed in books.”
Unlike just a few short months ago, it’s now a daily occurrence to see Ingram’s second graders stuffing their book bags with titles to take home like “Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music,” “Don’t Throw It to Mo!,” “What Can You Do with a Paleta?” and “Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun: Having the Courage To Be Who You Are.”
“They’re very encouraging books that let students see they really can do anything and be anything they want to be, despite coming from a high poverty area,” added Ingram.
As for the new books, her class can’t get enough of them.
“We already had a lot of books in our classroom, but Miss Ingram thought we needed more,” said second-grader Macie King. “I like the new ones because they’re not like fairy tales. They’re real.”
Classmate Alexander Alvarez agreed, adding, “She gave me these books because she loves me, and I love that I get to read these books every night to my brother and my mom.”
Ingram understands it all starts at home, with parents being their child’s first teacher. Therefore, she believes if parents reinforce and encourage those classroom reading skills she’s taught during the day, it’ll make it easier for their child to succeed.
“Reading is everywhere. It’s the foundation for everything in their lives, so we’re trying to prepare them for forever,” Ingram said. “I always say ‘Is this going to help you graduate from second grade? How about high school? College? For the rest of your life?’ And with reading, the answer’s yes! I’m constantly trying to encourage healthy reading habits both at home and in my classroom.”
Ingram’s model to bolster brainy bookworms is garnering quite the attention. In fact, she recently presented her findings at the North Carolina Reading Association Conference in Raleigh.
Teaching teachers from across the state, Ingram said her best piece of advice is, “Don’t let a lack of funds stop you. Write as many grants as you can to help your students. That’s what’s most important.”
Ashley Michelle Thublin is the public information officer for Richmond County Schools.