Literacy fund honors local teacher's love of books

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By The Staff

When the Donna Fenn Literacy Fund was founded in 2005, her husband and family wanted to establish a way to honor her commitment to early childhood literacy.

An endowment was created for the benefit of the school where she taught, William Tell Elementary, with a mission to promote literacy-skills development.

This permanent endowment fund, managed by the Community Foundation Alliance, provides funds to the school and began distributions in 2007. More than $4,000 has been provided in its first two distribution years to a committee of teachers and administrators for literacy programs.

The fund founders wanted to give special emphasis to extra literacy initiatives and chose this approach to honor Donna's passion for literacy and allow the school to direct the best use of the funds.

“With the 2007 Donna Fenn Literacy Fund allocation, students at William Tell Elementary were presented a complete collection of Jan Brett books. Jan Brett was Donna's favorite author and she treasured her books, specifically how beautiful the illustrations were,” William Tell Principal Laura Noble said. “Not only was a collection of hardbacks purchased for the student library, a second set was purchased for teachers to use for reading to their students in the classroom. Because of this funding opportunity, we were able to purchase high-quality books to enjoy for years to come. Our kindergarten teachers, for example, read these books to the children and involve the students in follow-up art activities.”

The balance of the 2007 allocation supported fifth-grade literacy with a parent-child reading program. Award-winning hardback book titles were selected and students and their parents selected the books they would read together. At their first meeting, parents and students met in groups, according to which book they were reading, and discussed options for group or individual projects to be completed by the final meeting. 

At the final meeting, each individual or group presented their project based on the book they'd read. At the conclusion of the school year program, the books became a part of the classroom library of books available for use in literature circles in the fifth-grade classrooms.

“All of the books selected for this program were Newberry Award winners or on the list of honorable mentions. We're already discussing which novels we'll use for the book club for the 2008 school year.  We've done this several times and it's a great way for parents and students to share their love of reading,” said Leanne LeClere, a fifth-grade teacher.

Plans for the funds provided in September for the 2008-09 school year will fund three literacy initiatives. In a new program, books and teacher guides were purchased for interactive classroom reading programs focused on literacy skills for the second-grade classrooms.  

This new program will join the continuation of the fifth-grade parent-student reading program and new book additions to the school library.

In the current school year, student books and teacher guides were purchased to support an interactive reading program for kindergarten and first-grade classrooms. As part of the core curriculum it allows for focused reading by the students with the teacher and, the teacher with the class, to promote understanding of cause and effect, distinguishing fact from fiction, problem and solution and other similar literacy skills.  

With the availability of literacy-fund money it was possible to expand this program to include the six second-grade classrooms. Fifth-grade teachers Sarah Reid and LeClere are currently selecting this year's titles to be used to repeat the successful fifth-grade parent-student reading program.  

The school library will benefit with this year's allocation with additions to their collection of noted children's author Patricia Polacco.  Noble summed up her feelings about this year's allocation. “Through the Donna Fenn Literacy Fund, we are able to provide high-quality children's literature books that are of lasting quality … and put those books directly in the hands of our students,” she said.

As an endowment fund, contributions to the Donna Fenn Literacy Fund will never be spent and only a portion of the fund's growth and earnings can be distributed.  Donations to the fund are tax-deductible and managed by the Community Foundation Alliance, the parent organization of the Perry County Community Foundation.  

While many contributions, in Donna's name, were made initially to establish this fund, others have chosen to honor their loved ones by making memorial contributions to the fund to support literacy skills development in the Tell City-Troy Township School Corp.  When retired school Principal Earl Etienne passed away, his children and extended family chose to memorialize his dedication to the Tell City school system with a donation to the fund.  

Mr. Etienne began his career as an educator in Perry County schools in 1932 and retired with distinction as principal of St. Paul's School in Tell City 46 years later.

To date, more than 200 individuals or groups have made contributions to the fund. The Community Foundation Alliance program has made it possible for ongoing and sustained giving to support literacy development or memorialize a career.  

Donations are always welcome at Donna Fenn Literacy Fund, P. O. Box 13, Tell City, IN 47586. For more information on this and other funds, contact me at 547-3176.

Houzanme is executive director of the Perry County Community Foundation.