New literacy coordinator wants to instill her love of reading in kids

Published 12:23 pm Saturday, August 29, 2009

Paula Lemar believes there are books everyone should read at one time or another: the “Boxcar Children” series, “A Tale of Two Cities,” and most importantly, the “Harry Potter” books.

It was through those books Lemar found her calling.

“I am partial to Harry Potter,” she said.

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Lemar, 22, was introduced to the books in middle school, when her sister brought them home from college. At the time, she was uninterested in school in general.

“They got me interested in being an editor,” she said.

The Austin High School graduate studied English at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., and earned her degree in May.

When an opportunity to develop a new children’s literacy program became available, she took it.

Through AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), Lemar trained to become a literacy program coordinator at the Austin Community Learning Center.

Lemar, who began work Monday, is paid on the poverty level to work 40 hours per week through next August planning and organizing a children’s literacy program for kids in grades K-5. Her training included 1.5 weeks of Pre-Service Orientation with AmeriCorps.

“Through there we learned how to fight poverty and different techniques for working with poverty,” she said. “That way we can get a feel for what it’s like to live at their level.”

The program — which the children will name the first day of class — will be held concurrently with adult English Language Learning classes two nights a week. The children must have parents taking the ELL classes to participate in the program.

“We’ll be focusing on anything to do with literature,” said Lemar, who tutored ELL students in college. “It seemed like a really good cause. As an English major, I would really love to see literacy rates go up in the U.S.”

The purpose of her position is to make the new program self-sustaining.

“The program should be able to function without me by the end of the year,” she said.

Ideas for her program include a 20-minute book club each class; creating a “scrapbook” to document their progress throughout the year; recognition of the National Book Festival Sept. 26; a field trip to see the movie “Where the Wild Things Are,” an adaptation of a famous children’s picture book; a pumpkin-painting event; and a visit to the public library to sign up for book cards and learn to use its services.

“All of this is kind of a challenge because I’ve never done this before,” Lemar said. “Since it is a new program, building everything from the ground up, and hopefully keeping it sustainable.”

Lemar said she hopes someday to work for a small book publisher in the Pittsburgh area, where she lived for four years.

“I just love the area,” she said.

Children’s literacy classes start Wednesday, Sept. 9 and will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. Volunteers are needed.

To register for classes, call Paula Lemar at 460-1707.