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Holyoke Rotary Club's donation helps city schools

Date: 11/11/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor

HOLYOKE The city's elementary schools received a boost in the effort to teach reading on Friday with the donation of 100 family literacy backpacks by the Holyoke Rotary Club.

Officials from the School Department, Square One and the Rotary Club gathered at the Morgan School for the distribution of the backpacks. Maureen Ross O'Connell, the chair of the Rotary's literacy committee, explained to Reminder Publications two backpacks will be distributed to each first, second and third grade classroom in the city's public schools.

Each backpack is valued at $200 and funding for the donation came from the Holyoke Rotary Club, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, the Nan and Matilda Heydt Fund, United Bank Foundation, Ross Insurance Agency and Holyoke Gas & Electric.

Ross O'Connell said the latest donation followed a successful pilot program at the Kelly School which started in 2007 when the Holyoke Rotary Club gave 21 backpacks.

Kathy Coleman, assistant vice president of programs/school age at Square One, developed the backpacks four years ago as a way to supplement a reading and writing curriculum. She said the backpacks all have a theme these include "Rocks and Minerals," "Our Solar System," "Sea Life" and "Dinosaurs," among others which tie into state-established curriculums.

Each backpack has books, games, puppets and puzzles that can be used by teachers in their lessons. Teachers can borrow different backpacks throughout the year.

The backpacks were first developed for the Springfield schools and Holyoke is the second community to receive them, she said. The response in Springfield to the backpacks was "fabulous," and Coleman hopes other communities would be interested in the program.

Internationally, Rotary Clubs have an agenda that includes promoting literacy. Holyoke Rotary Club President Peter Brunault reminded the audience gathered at the press event that before the literacy backpack project, the club had established a tradition of donating dictionaries to every third grader in Holyoke, South Hadley and Granby.