Gotwals Principal Jeanette Fernandez, left, and Bonita Kent Hadrick, Chair of the NAACP Norristown Branch’s Education Committee, work with 3rd graders at Gotwals in Norristown Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013. The Norristown Branch of the NAACP has adopted Gotwals as part of its Read It program. Photo by Gene Walsh / Times Herald Staff.By Brendan Wills, The Times Herald
Gotwals Elementary School, in partnership with the Norristown branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is continuing the third year of their Read It program.
The Read It program allows community members the chance to give back to the students in the Norristown Area School District by becoming Read It volunteers or by donating books to Gotwals. Volunteers can spend time with students in the classroom or one on one.
According to Jeanette Fernandez, principal of Gotwals, “the main interest was how to make something concrete, to make people feel that they are actually empowering these children.”
Bonita K. Hadrick, chairperson for the education department of the Norristown NAACP, said the program was developed through the Adopt-A-School program in an effort to get the community inside the classroom.
“We were looking for ways to support the school. We thought that one important thing would be community engagement,” Hadrick said. “We looked at Gotwals especially because the population here just bloomed. We thought ‘look at all these kids down here. We can make a difference.’”
Fernandez attested to the amount of kids that can benefit from the program.
“We now have about 530 students here in the center of Norristown,” she said.
“So all of these kids are right here with employees of businesses two or three blocks away,” Hadrick said. “We wanted a way to get mentors so that it’s accessible for them to take 20 minutes or a half hour from their lunch and get to a school. That’s why we picked Gotwals.”
Fernandez agreed with Hadrick adding “it’s not only for the kids in the community, but also for the parents and businesses. They can support the effort here on the school level in a concrete way.”
According to Hadrick and Fernandez, the next step was to make it as easy as possible to volunteer. Volunteers are encouraged to call Gotwals and schedule time to participate.
“They can choose to donate books, or choose to work with a student, or choose to work with a classroom.” Hadrick said, adding that the school will work with volunteers’ schedules to find time when they can come in.
“The idea was to give the opportunity for volunteers to come in more consistently. One or two times a month instead of one or two times a year,” Fernandez said. “We also have monthly reading celebrations on the first or second week of each month where we congratulate the kids on their reading accomplishments. It works out great for volunteers who come in on those days. They get to tell the kids what a good job they are doing.”
Community members who cannot give their time can still give the gift of reading. Volunteers that wish to donate books are encouraged to contact Gotwals and schedule a time to drop off books.
“We put the books into the library, or in classrooms, or out in those bookshelves you see in the hallways,” Feranandez said. “We really want them to build libraries in their houses. The students can return the books if they want, but we encourage the kids to keep them.”
According to Fernandez, the students are taking the bait and enjoying it too.
“My reading assistants come in with a box of books and you would think it was candy. The kids are jumping to get a piece,” Fernandez said. “Those books you see out on the bookshelf only last about a week. Now that we’ve had these books available for three or four years, kids realize that they can pick it up and be entertained.”
Gotwals and the NAACP encourage past volunteers to come back to the program for another year.
“We want to keep the program going,” Fernandez said. “The relationship between the community and school really helps us give the students everything they need to be successful, not just academically, but in life too.”
Volunteers interested in participating are asked to contact Jeanette Fernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org or Bonita K. Hadrick at email@example.com. Volunteers can also call Gotwals at 610-275-1077.