Book maven Lisa Dolan is like a animated creature, flying down the school corridors and the streets of Hudson, flapping her wings about what’s new in the nest: book festivals, inter-generational book clubs and a mentoring program with readers from the community.
And wait — let’s not forget summer programs!
As literacy coach at M.C. Smith Intermediate School, which is in year two of corrective action with the State Education Department, Dolan created a myriad of initiatives because knows she has to fly high and wide to make an impact.
She knows books matter. They make a difference in the lives of students, who surely matter.
So, even during the summer, after she’s arranged countless reading events and programs all year, she’s out to make sure every single student goes home with a book. And an assignment, of course. After all, she was a teacher for more than two decades before becoming the book boss.
Her list of start-ups is big, and she is grateful for the support of many colleagues, the community, and the Hudson Teachers Association — all helping to keep pages turning.
“The thing I’m most proud of is the Hudson Reads School Power Lunch Reading Mentor Program,” said Dolan, a member of the Hudson TA led by Jack Beyer, which has supported numerous literacy events and programs.
One night, while watching NBC Nightly News, a segment aired on a reading-mentoring program in Washington, D.C. Politicians meet regularly with students to read with them. Her husband, Don, looked at her and said: “Lisa, you could do that here.”
Dolan never needs much of a push. She was up and googling the Washington. D.C. “Everybody Wins” program, then called the director, who sent her start-up information. She began her power lunches this past academic year with third-graders, with the goal that their mentors will follow them through sixth grade.
So, just who are these volunteers? Community leaders, corporate executives, school board members, business administrators, teachers and SRPs. They’re working people who use their lunch breaks to show up once a week, bringing their own bagged lunch, and reading for 40 minutes with a student to whom they’ve been matched. The child uses his/her combined lunch and recess time, so they do not miss any classroom instruction.
All the volunteers go through an application process and read with students in the library where there is always a school employee present, said Dolan.
“They are generating enthusiasm for books and reading,” Dolan said of the volunteers. “They increase the children’s self-esteem.”
Special education teachers and TA members Jennifer Merwin-Domkosky and Beth Rolfe help run the program, which is spread out over three days to fit in all the participants.
“Our goal the first year was to use 30 mentors and we got 70!” said Dolan.
Students in the program celebrated the end of this first year with lunch, a mini-circus and their own book, with support from the Hudson TA.
Dolan also started a flurry of lunchtime clubs, hosted by people in the community. There’s Scrabble Club, Writing Club, Book Club, Movie Club, Farm, Food and Fun Club, Knitting Club and Quilting Club.
Each uses directions, sequencing and comprehension, she said, so they all boost literacy. They also keep students engaged by being in small groups.
On a larger scale, Dolan created the district-wide Hudson Children’s Book Festival to connect children’s authors with students. A nascent event just in its third year, it drew 111 authors and an impressive 5,000 attendees this past May, she reports.
“Our students get to see authors and read their books. It gives them a really big reading experience,” she said.
Every student who comes to the festival also gets a free book that Dolan orders from Scholastic Publishing, paid for by Hudson River Bank and Trust Foundation.
The book festival, which includes food and vendors, draws student visitors from nearby schools, where Dolan set off her sparkling excitement at faculty meetings to spread news about this new event.
She directs the festival with Maria Suttmeier, assistant superintendent. Fund-raising is zealously carried out by festival coordinator and Hudson TA member Jen Clark, a seventh- and eighth-grade AIS reading teacher. Then there are the whopping 240 volunteers — teachers, School-Related Professionals, school health care professionals and students.
Also helping with literacy programs in Hudson are reading specialists Tanya Green and Allison Blake, who have developed the summer reading assignments, and intermediate school principal Mark Brenneman, who actively supports literacy efforts.
The TA donates generously to the festival, Dolan added. “I couldn’t do these literacy projects without the Hudson TA.”
Dolan also created an inter-generational book club for the community, encouraging students to bring along parents, grandparents and other family members to read and discuss books. In some families, if there are no other readers in the home, children will not be as inclined to read — or there may not be books for them to pick up and read.
The club continues to meet once a week at the Hudson Opera House, and is now run by fourth-grade teacher Ellen Huemmer, TA secretary.
Making sure that students continue to read over the summer is another concern. This year, Dolan used bonus points from her Scholastic book festival order to purchase an age-appropriate book for each of the 570 students in the elementary school.
If they complete the accompanying assignment and a reading log of other books, they can earn another book when school resumes in September.
“Books are not just a means to an end,” Dolan said. “They’re not just about learning, but also for pleasure and information. These are all aspects of the reading process.”
And so, until the next chapter…
— Liza Frenette