Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 2:59 PM on Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Rotarians make special delivery

And 'kindle' a connection with Nanwalek students

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

Nanwalek High School students Xavier Romanoff and Jay Green become familiar with Kindles Fires as Homer Kachemak Bay Rotarian Kathy Hill looks on.

The small, 500-volume library of Nanwalek School got a boost the morning of April 26. A big boost, thanks to 30 Kindle Fires, e-readers capable of holding up to 45,000 books each. Not bad for a school of less than 90 students.

The gift was made possible by the efforts of Nanwalek School Principal Scott Handley, members of the Homer Kachemak Bay Rotary Club and Craig and Gayle Forrest of Tech Connect, a Radio Shack dealership in Homer. Funding came from a $1,900 grant from Rotary International District 5010, $2,000 from Kachemak Bay Rotary Club with an additional $200 for screen protectors, and $2,000 from an anonymous donor in Nanwalek.

The Kindles, each one already containing 20 books, were personally delivered to the school last week by Rotarians Milli Martin, Debbie Dauphinais, Kathy Hill and Sharon Minsch, who traveled to the Cook Inlet village by Mako's Water Taxi.

"I just want to thank Rotary for their support to make this step possible for our students. Rotary partnerships have helped Nanwalek students achieve. Thank you to all that have helped make this project possible," said Handley.

Students wrote their appreciation on a banner-sized thank-you card.

"Thank you. You are so awesome. The coolest. Best thing that ever happened in my life," wrote high school junior Nadia Ukatish.

After unwrapping the Kindles, Handley and the four Rotary representatives went through basic operating steps with middle and high school students who, in turn, introduced younger students to the capabilities of the e-readers: varying font sizes, color choices for the text and background, the ability to look up any words not understood, the capability to add notes and mark text for later reference and oh so much more. The day's learning tool: an illustrated version of Beatrix Potter's "Tale of Peter Rabbit."

"When I think of the potential of this for the school, what it means for these kids, I think more of them will be inclined to be readers," said Martin, chairman of the Rotary club's community service committee.

Dauphinais first learned of Nanwalek's need for books in 2010, and immediately took steps to fill that gap.

Between that fall and spring 2011, with the help of family and friends, she sent about a dozen boxes of books to the school via Smokey Bay Air. Into each box Dauphinais crammed 20-25 books.

"Being an avid reader even as a child, I wanted to make sure that other kids had the same opportunities to read that I had," said Dauphinais.

The idea for the Rotary club's gift of e-readers began when Handley gave a presentation to the club about Nanwalek School and the students' achievements and goals.

"Our fifth-graders in writing are outscoring the state and district on SBA (standards based assessment) scores," he said. "We had made a 17-point jump in our writing scores last year and our reading scores were making a continual growth at the elementary level."

He addressed the need to address higher reading achievement for middle and high school students, as well as improvement of all students in critical thinking and analysis scores.

"I shared the idea of how we were in need of reading material for our older students and an outpouring began," said Handley.

In February 2011, following Handley's presentation, Martin invited him to apply for a Rotary grant to help meet the school's need. His application stated the goal of purchasing 27 e-readers that would make it possible to "download and store multiple books and periodicals that are not presently available to our kids. It will also allow thousands of books to be available to our students without taking up large amounts of space." The application submitted by Homer Kachemak Bay Rotary Club for a Rotary International District 5010 grant increased the number of e-readers to 30.

As funding for the project came together, Handley was insistent that a local business be used. Forrest, president of the Homer Kachemak Bay Rotary Club, and owner of Tech Connect, was able to make that possible. As Radio Shack distributors, the Forrests were able to obtain a sub-dealership for Kindle.

"We were able to sell (the Kindles) at less price because we sold them to Rotary Club," said Forrest, adding, "(Tech Connect) made less on each piece, but what the heck. In this case, the idea was to get the Kindles into the hands of the kids."

While Handley introduced the students to the e-readers, Hill distributed sheets of paper on which the students were directed by Handley to write down the names of three books they would like to have. Once purchased, the additional reading material will be placed on each Kindle.

"Students now will have access to reading materials never available before," said Handley."

The benefits of e-readers were addressed in the school's technology and library plans, but restricted funds were used for creation of a mobile lab for computers and to help purchase technology already being used in other schools throughout the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

E-readers also were addressed as a middle and high school intervention tool "since our reading scores began to decline as they approached high school," said Handley. "We found our students reading fewer books and depending more on textbooks. There were no real novels that kids could check out or interesting periodicals that could be read for our older students. We saw the need to address the next generational learning through e-readers."

Now, with the Kindles in hand, the students' avenue to increased learning stretches into the distance.

"The more reading being done, the better the reader," said Dauphinais.

"The doors the Kindles open up are enormous," said Martin.

After three years as principal in Nanwalek, Handley has some idea of the potential the Kindles may help unlock.

"(The) bottom line is to create an excitement about reading for middle school and high school students and allow them access to books and periodicals that have been non-existent and not available here," he said. "The development of critical thinking and analysis skills will follow. Our students can achieve and outscore anyone. They just need access to the same tools and information."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.