Excel Grant Stories – Books

We know that getting young people hooked on reading is critical. A recent study by Sam Houston State University show strong connections between reading for pleasure & academic success. It showed that high school juniors who engaged in reading for pleasure would average higher grades in English, mathematics, science and history than their non-reading peers. So how do we get these busy, modern students into the library and then coming back? These teachers seem to have the answer.

Below are photos and words from the teachers, counselors and staff who received book related grants this year. We look forward to continuing to share more stories soon.

Beautiful Books Beckoning our Bilingual Students at White Center Heights

Beautiful Books Beckoning our Bilingual StudentsWe choose very exciting Spanish/English books for students and teachers in our bilingual classes. Before receiving the grant from Highline Schools Foundation, we had a very small collection of library books in Spanish. Our collection in Spanish was not complete enough to support teachers lessons and units, especially in science. Now our teachers in the bilingual program, check out books that add important information in Spanish to support both the science content in a unit and in the students’ Spanish language practice.

The students working on projects had support for their research and were able to do a better job on their projects. I have attached an example of a newspaper with information that was more complete due the books provided by the foundation.

“I am grateful for your work on behalf of students and educators. Thank you so much.” ~ Nancy Hallberg

Biography Living Museum at Parkside Elementary

Biography Living MuseumWe used the grant money to buy biographies for our classroom to use for our Biography Reading Unit and for students to use as a resource for their Living Museum Project. Students selected and read several biographies of historical or current figures that had an impact on our world. Students studied biographies by reading several biographies during reading workshop, participated in a biography book club and in “The Living Museum”.

On the day of The Living Museum, each student wore a simple costume, used artifacts and role played the historic person using “first person” narration. They recounted important dates in his/her life, his/her contributions to the world, and any other historic information about the person’s life. Students shared their knowledge with their peers and other grade levels. Our guests included 2 Kindergarten classes, 1 third grade class and 1 fourth grade class, along with various teachers, parents, and family members who dropped in during our Living Museum Presentations.

This grant has made a difference in our classes because it allowed students to access a rich variety of biographies. They were able to read biographies at their reading and interest level. It encouraged their love of reading because we were able to match them with books they are interested in and can read and understand. They were also able to read several biographies about the same person and use their critical thinking to compare and contrast between books. They used a variety of skills (verbal-linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, visual-spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal) in order to participate in the Living Museum. By participating in this project, they got to interact and be immersed with their important figure. They also greatly benefited by having an opportunity to teach other students about their historical figure. Future fourth grade students will also benefit from this project because it will build the nonfiction classroom library of our teachers. Our students benefited from the multiple Living Museum audiences – we invited another 4th grade class, 3rd grade class and 2 Kindergarten classes. – Jeanette Yee

I don’t know how to say it in English | Seahurst Elementary

I don't know how to say it in EnglishI was able to sign out a dictionary to every Level 1 (or new-comer) family in our school. Students took the dictionaries home to assist with homework or referencing when they did not know a word. This also helped families have access to an easy to use dictionary to assist anyone in their home learning English vocabulary. Also, I was able to increase student access to Imagine Learning English with the iPad minis. One student was even able to find a great translation app to assist her throughout the day.

I think this grant has helped families the most. Often, newcomer students are unable to do homework or understand their reading because they do not know the vocabulary. It is hard for a parent to not have the ability to help their child. By giving every family a picture dictionary to keep at home, parents are able to learn alongside their student(s).

“Thank you for making this possible.” ~ Amanda Lattin

Lower Level Reading for English Language Learners at Cascade Middle School

Lower Level Reading for English Language LearnersSo exciting! I was able to purchase 70 high-interest, low-level books for our English Language Learners. They were exactly what these students needed and the teens are loving these books!

Most of the low-level books we have from before the grant are written for first and second-graders, so they have very young protagonists and feature themes about caring, sharing, and family. The books purchased through the Excel grant have teenage characters and feature young adult themes such as friendship, love, and making a difference. My students are excited to be reading books that look like “bigger kid” books and they’ve been checking them out like crazy. The ELL teacher brings her classes once a week and almost every single student checks out at least one of these new books, if not three (the limit). Moreover, some of her students come back throughout the week to swap out a book they’ve finished for a new one.

“I love how you fund so many different projects every year.” ~ Dawn Lindgren

Manga Madness @ the Evergreen Library

Manga Madness @ the Library

With the Excel grant funds, I was able to increasing the graphic novel section of the library by 76 books. These books promote independent reading, assist lower reading through graphics that support the written word, and enrich the reading for our highest level readers.

Circulation of these titles has skyrocketed and the additions has made many students very happy and excited about reading for pure pleasure. In addition, I have 2-3 teachers who have extended their reading requirements in class to include graphic novels because we now have the variety and sheer numbers that all this to be a viable option.

Once the books were added to our collection we advertised them through our website with a rotating slide show in the Look what’s new section of the webpage. I also promoted it with book talks to classes, word of mouth through our unofficial Anime club, and in my weekly newsletter to staff. They were also on display for a short while (most were snapped up for check out immediately!)

“As always, a pleasure doing business with the Highline Foundation.   You make my students feel so excited with a donation such as this!” ~ Joanne Glasgow

Readers Need Heroes | Chinook Middle School

Readers Need Heroes

I sought out books that would inspire my readers so that they could find heroes; many of these books had superheroes, most had diverse characters, all had “heroes.” I think I accomplished my goal of matching students with books and literary heroes. These books have been continually checked out since they arrived, with many books on hold as students eagerly await being next to read them.

Students have particularly connected with the Ms. Marvel series (a young adult, Muslim superhero who wears a hijab!) and the Miles Morales Spiderman (he’s a superhero who’s Hispanic!) series. That being said, they love all of these books. The fantasy books with Hispanic characters and even the Teen Titans series have been wildly popular. They love being able to see themselves in books with characters who look like them. – Kimberly Meschter

Reading is the Reward at Hazel Valley Elementary

Reading is the RewardThe goal of this grant was to support both reading growth and positive behavior choices by giving students access to high-interest texts as reinforcement. I was amazed by how excited students were to have the opportunity to access a library of engaging books about athletes; this special opportunity was much more reinforcing than getting a tangible prize like a sticker or pencil. Thanks to the Highline Schools Foundation many 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students at Hazel Valley were recognized for being their best selves and were excited to be readers.

Here’s just one student’s story that demonstrates how building this library of engaging books had a positive impact: One of my students had been struggling to be his best self when lining up for the bus at the end of the day. He made a plan to solve the problem that included checking in with an adult before heading to the bus. While making this plan, he noticed the library of Amazing Athletes books that I purchased with the Highline Schools Foundation grant. He suddenly got a big smile on his face and asked if reading these books could be a part of this end-of-day plan. He planned to end each school day by quietly reading one story and getting calm before heading home. These books helped turn a problem into an opportunity!! – Elizabeth Winston

Reading Supports Student Achievement at Tyee

Reading Supports Student AchievementThe purpose of this grant was to replace our aging lower level reading materials – books which appeal to our ELL student population. The Library was able to purchase approximately 200 new titles from the Saddleback Publishing company. This publisher, specializes in providing lower level reading materials.

One ELL teacher, Mr. Huizar has been bringing his ELL students into the library nearly every Friday. Mr. Huziar is pictured with his students in the library. His students are enjoying the new Saddleback titles we have added to our collection. Many students end up checking out several titles during their library visits. According to Mr. Huizar, his students are reading more and as a result of more reading, his students English language seems to be improving. What’s even more impressive, these same ELL students come into the library during their own free time to return their books and to find new books! When our ELL students find interesting books to read, they tend to visit the library more often – and we like this very much.

“The work you are doing at the Highline School Foundation is appreciated and admired!” ~ Robert Vegar

Shorewood Mock Newbery Selection Committee | Shorewood Elementary

Shorewood Mock Newbery Selection Committee

With this grant, I was able to purchase 20 books for our Shorewood Mock Newbery Selection Committee. The four titles that I purchased (five copies of each title) are: The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson and Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk. The twenty students on the committee read as many of these books as possible in the allotted time (several months) and then chose a favorite and defended their choice to the group.

Having the funds to buy these books not only made the Mock Newbery program possible, which is important for many reasons, but it also promoted these titles in ways that I never could have. To have this many students in leadership roles in the school reading these books, commenting on them, and having passionate opinions about them, has made these books become some of the most popular titles in the library. Quite often the most popular books in the library are not considered to be of the highest quality (think Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Minecraft!) so this is quite important. The Mock Newbery program is a valuable experience on its own, however. Students create arguments around the book’s merit and empowers them to share their voice and defend their own opinions. To have students choose to be in this program shows that they find this work important and enjoyable, which is what is the most important.

“I think the process is wonderful and I am so grateful for your generous support. Thank you so much!” ~ Sarah Gasamis

Taking the Sting Out of Learning to Read at MRHS

Taking the Sting Out of Learning to ReadThere were two phases to what I was able to accomplish with the Excel Grant. First, I weeded and reduced the number of “Quick Reads” (low-level/struggling reader materials) already in the collection. Many of these books, both fiction and non-fiction, were essentially “baby” books–written for and about pre-K to elementary school children. These were not books attractive to our teen population, and for good reason. I removed about 2/3 of this particular collection overall.

The second phase, which coincided with the first, was to order various sets and series books from Saddleback Publishers, a company that specializes in low-level and emergent reading books for middle school and high school students. Once these books arrived, my assistant and I spent about three weeks processing the materials: barcoding, labeling, securing, cataloging and protecting nearly 300 new individual books. By the beginning of February, all the new Quick Reads were ready and shelved, nearly tripling the size of the collection.

My criteria for this project’s success was that I would first see an increase in students and teachers visiting the library specifically for perusing and checking out these books. This has happened beyond my expectations as the stories below will illustrate. My second criteria was to observe more ELL and special education teachers and their students visiting the library and checking out these books. This, too, has occurred repeatedly since I’ve put these books on the shelves. Finally, I wanted to see an increase in the number of books circulating from this particular section (Quick Reads), and a 5-10% increase in circulation overall. I cannot yet determine by how much the overall circulation has increased for the year (it has already surpassed last year’s), but I have far exceeded my target for number of Quick Read books circulated: I set a goal to circulate 25-50 Saddleback books by June, within the first month we circulated more than 125!

Within a week of putting these books out for circulation, our Learning Lab teacher–who works with struggling readers and special education students–visited the library looking for a collection of books to take to her classes to get students to read independently. I suggested she take a look at our new additions to the Quick Reads. At first, she seemed a bit reticent. She had experienced many challenges to convincing her students to read at all, so her feelings were understandable. Still, I helped her select about 50 books of various levels from both the series collections (such as Urban Underground and District 15) and the Learning Libraries (set levels 1-4). She checked them out and took them to her classes to look at and perhaps select one to read. During a staff meeting that very day, she approached me, very excited, and told me how her students took to these books. They loved them! She sounded much more up-beat about the prospect of her students reading independently, and within a few days, she brought her classes to the library to check out the books they had selected from those she had taken to her classroom. Other students looked at the Quick Reads collection, and found additional books for themselves to read.

Within a week of that occasion, two other special education teachers visited the library with their various classes to look at these, and other books. After doing a book preview activity with each class, students were free to look at and check out whatever books they wanted. Many decided on one or more of the Saddleback books. Moreover, teachers were jazzed to learn that I had beginning level books (Learning Library set 1) for their struggling readers and their English language learners. One ELL teacher has brought specific students who need emergent reading materials to the library just to check out our new Saddleback books. Students that visit in small groups will look through the selections and talk about them with each other. It is apparent that they appreciate the books, and the fact, perhaps, that they depict teens and teen situations on the covers rather than toddlers!

Taking the Sting Out of Learning to Read - CartThe really interesting piece for me that goes beyond my vision or expectations, is that I’ve had general education and highly capable students start to show interest in these materials. One even said he liked them because he could read one quickly and get some good basic information!

“I can think of nothing to improve this. The best improvement this year was the increase in the maximum amount provided for each grant. It was because I could request the amount that I did ($2500) that I was able to make such a positive and drastic change to our Quick Reads section. That would not have been possible any other way.

I am ecstatic that these books have already been such a hit with the students they were meant to serve. I’m equally happy that the teachers are excited about these books, since often if I cannot “sell” a book to a teacher, it can be difficult to bring them in with their classes. I intend on finding additional resources to purchase more offerings like these from Saddleback since my long-term goal is to fill the remaining space in this bookcase with Quick Reads!” ~ Lisa Carlson

We Love Reading en Espanol at Mount View Elementary!

We love reading en espanol!2With the grant I was able to buy dozens of new books in Spanish for my students. They were all excited to see the new titles. It helped create excitement over reading in Spanish and gave the students a lot more choices of books to check out. I was definitely able to accomplish my goal of getting more Spanish books into kids’ hands and sharing the enthusiasm of reading with my students.

This grant has added more titles in Spanish to the library. I tried to find books in Spanish of favorite characters of topics that we have in English but not Spanish. For instance, we had a kindergartner ask me the other day for a book so she could cook with her mom. Since she is a Spanish speaker, her teacher wants her to only check out in Spanish. Last year I would have had to tell her that we don’t have any cookbooks in Spanish, but I have 2 new ones this year. She found one she liked and took it home. She was so excited to make things from that book! And I was pleased that I was able to have the resource to give to her.

“I loved that you upped the rewards this year! I was able to get so many more books this year!  Thank you! You have made a huge difference this year in the lives of my students!” ~ Trina Samson


Since 1999, the Highline Schools Foundation has been supporting innovation and excellence in Highline Public Schools. Our funding priorities focus on programs to improve academic achievement, supporting college and career readiness, grants to teachers for engaging classroom projects, the arts, athletics, and programs that keep students in school and productive. Highline is a district full of need and opportunity. The Highline Schools Foundation is the only non-profit organization dedicated to all schools in our district—our goal is to help as many students as possible be successful!

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