Freetown Elementary rallies around book event

More than 100 Freetown Elementary School students and parents combed through stacks of brand new books at the school's final book-centered family night Wednesday.

Students were encouraged to select up to five books to keep in their home library, or return to the school. Cheyanne Walker, 12, and her sister Jayden, 10, selected several books each. They said they love to read.

The event was part of Freetown Rises Up, an initiative created by Principal Amanda Edmonds, along with reading specialist Erin Johanson and math resource teacher Julie Taylor to encourage students, teachers, parents and community members to improve student achievement in reading and math.

Each student carried a light blue, customized drawstring bag created to transport the free books. Embellished with a Freetown Rises Up logo, the bags have become an incentive for students, encouraging them to collect books to read at home.

Funding for the bags was furnished through a grant submitted by Lake Shore-Severna Park Rotary Club. The club also provided financing for specially made book lights given to students to help "make bedtime reading even more enjoyable," said Rotary member Fran Ouellette.

When Freetown approached the club last year, they requested funding to help jump-start Freetown Rises Up.

"We knew where we wanted to go with our family nights this year and we knew that we were going to need additional funding so we met with (Rotary)," Johanson said.

Freetown presented three objectives to the club: establishing book friendly family nights, creating a Little Free Library, and increasing attendance at events. Rotary also aided in funding reading-focused books and bagels events.

With Rotary on board, three family nights were planned throughout the school year, all of which were well-attended. The first event had roughly 350 attendees, the final night 140 people RSVP'd.

When parents and students arrived for family night, they gathered in the cafeteria to eat dinner. Typically, Rotary volunteers would help serve food to attendees, but members were unable to attend the event due to a scheduling conflict.

Following dinner, parents met with Johanson to learn strategies to improve their child's reading skills and comprehension. Three separate, but interrelated, topics were discussed during each family night, including how to read aloud to your child, how to ask good questions, and how to help your child answer a question.

Johanson hopes her tips for parents are "easy to implement and...going to make a difference."

While parents learned reading techniques, their children were engaged in fun activities. Wednesday's activity was making colorful bookmarks out of duct tape, ribbon and stickers.

Third grade teacher Samantha Ferguson was one of several teachers who stayed late. Her role was helping students create bookmarks.

Ferguson says she's witnessed the excitement students exude when they have books to call their own. She said being able to keep a book, to write their name in it, creates a "special" bond between student and book.

She believes involving the community around Freetown in events such as family night can "even the playing field" for her students. Having a community partner like Rotary has been "awesome," she said.

Parents and students made their way to the book room during the last part of the evening. The room is usually staffed by Rotary members, however, teachers aided families in their absence.

Rows of tables displayed stacks of brand new books of all genres and reading levels.

Seven-year-old Karmyn Faulkner was excited to attend the event and pick out new books. Her mother Kiana says even though they were late her daughter insisted they stop by.

Karmyn is an avid reader, Kiana said, events like this "help a lot, so we don't always have to buy books from the book fair."

Although Rotary provided funding to purchase books for the event, Johanson was able to collect brand new books from all over the school. Being a Title 1 school, they receive assistance from the government in various forms, books being one of them.

Rotary's grant also provides funding for a Little Free Library, which Johanson plans to order next month. She hopes to have it established outside on school grounds by spring.

Edmonds is thankful for the successful partnership between Freetown and Rotary. She believes family nights are impacting her students in a positive manner.

"During the school day, I'm seeing children throughout the building carrying their books with them," she said.

Rotary is seeking new members. Ouellette, who has been a member for more than 40 years, said "Rotary Club is always looking for volunteers for a wide range of community assistance."

Contact member opportunities chair, John Clark, at john@lakeshorerotary@gmail.com for more information about volunteering with Rotary.

Chesapeake High ring discovered 20 years ago

Brooklyn Park resident Peggy Conley recently opened a small box she was given after her aunt Clara Hensley died in 1998. Inside, she discovered a Chesapeake High School class ring. Upon seeing the ring, Conley recalled the day it was discovered by her cousin, Hensley's granddaughter, on a beach in Severna Park's Carrollton Manor neighborhood around 1994.

The silver class ring has a purple gemstone and is inscribed with the name Michelle L. Wilson, class of 1986.

After discovering the ring at a neighborhood beach, Conley's cousin brought it to Hensley, whom she was living with at the time. Hensley, then in her late 70's, wasn't sure what to do with the ring, so she placed it in a box for safe keeping.

Before long, "it was forgotten about," Conley said.

After Hensley died, Conley was given the box which contained trinkets from her aunt's house. The box was placed on her dresser where it rested for 20 years.

With the rediscovery of the ring, Conley says she is hoping to find the person who lost the it. "I'd like to get it back to the rightful owner," she said.

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