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Plaza event highlights elementary school libraries

Friday, February 1st, 2013 | Posted by

Longtime elementary school teacher Billie Perez retired last year from Sassarini Elementary School but she hasn’t forgotten her former students.

Perez is headed to Sonoma Plaza for “Stories for Students,” a reading marathon designed to highlight the plight of public elementary school libraries throughout the valley.

The event runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 2), presented by parent volunteers and the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation.

Perez is one of about a dozen volunteers who will read children’s stories aloud at the Plaza amphitheater, hopefully raising awareness and funds at the same time.

Volunteers from several parent-teacher organizations planned the event to publicize the fact that school libraries were hit by a 25 percent budget cut this academic year – a $35,000 decrease that resulted in limited library hours for students.

Library hours range from 30 a week at Prestwood School, one of the largest campuses with 460 students, to 12 hours a week at Dunbar School, with 250 students attending the Glen Ellen campus.

“Classes are coming in one right after the other and there’s no time to read to them anymore and no time to assist them with finding books,” said Amy Cox, co-president of the Organization of Parents and Teachers at Sassarini.

“We hope with some of the redevelopment funds that hours can be reinstated.”

Volunteers were in the middle of planning their awareness campaign when the Sonoma Valley Unified School District was notified that redevelopment agency funds would bring more than $2.3 million to the district coffers.

Library campaign leaders are hopeful some of that funding can go toward reinstating hours – but recognize there’s much prioritizing in store for the school district, which began the academic year with a budget deficit of $2.6 million.

Several parent volunteers spoke at a recent school board meeting about the library cuts and their hopes for funding.

“We’re throwing our hat in there,” Cox said. “When you look at those redevelopment funds, really it is just a drop in the bucket (to reinstate library hours.)”

For now, “Stories for Students” is an opportunity to support teachers, school librarians and youngsters who visit campus libraries for fun, learning and discovery, and also support literacy at local public charter schools.

The program begins with two readers familiar to many children in the valley: Popo the Clown (also known as Penny Byrd) and local pediatrician and youth sports coach Charles De Torres, M.D. They’ll read from 10 to 10:30 a.m.

The lineup follows with Prestwood Elementary School kindergarten teacher Kristi Draluck and Sarah Duran of the Sonoma Academy of Dance and Arts at 10:30 a.m.; Sgt. Spencer Crum of the Sonoma Police Department and author and animator Tony Fucile at 11 a.m.; district music teacher Bob Gossett and magician Roger Rhoten of Sebastiani Theatre at 11:30 a.m.; Perez and El Verano Elementary School volunteer Mireya Rodriguez at noon (with Rodriguez reading in Spanish); and Avalon Players founder and artistic director Kate Kennedy, firefighter Sam Turner and school board trustee Nicole Abaté Ducarroz at 12:30 p.m.

Sonoma Valley Unified School District Superintendent Louann Carlomagno also plans to stop by with a storybook to read.

Draluck will pay tribute to Groundhog Day with a special story and a little visitor known as “Sonoma Phil.”

Brocco’s Old Barn is donating hay bales for seating.

Parent volunteers will host a bake sale and also sell hot chocolate throughout the event. Brownies, cookies and cups of hot chocolate will be sold for $1, with proceeds going to the libraries.

The event is free, with donations accepted.

“Reading is the most important skill in early childhood learning and we want to do all we can to encourage and promote a love of reading and the presence of books in every child’s home as much as we can,” said Laura Zimmerman, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. “The PTOs are taking an important stand to help our libraries and we are grateful for their leadership.”

Parent volunteers say many working families – or those without transportation – are unable to bring their children to the public library, thus relying on school libraries for materials for school projects as well as books for pleasure reading.

And, they say, it’s particularly frustrating that district standards emphasize reading at grade level by third grade, while at the same time reducing library hours before and after school and during recess and lunchtime.

“We want the community to know this is where our libraries are at this point,” Cox said.

For more information, visit svgreatschools.org or call 935-9566.

– Dianne Reber Hart

Writer Spotlight

Dianne Reber Hart is our Sonoma correspondent.

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