The Gift of Literacy

Tuesday, December 14 2010

U-Idaho Students Buy $1,100 worth of Books for North Idaho Children

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho – Literacy is a gift that keeps on giving.

Spreading a little Christmas joy and promoting literacy at an early age has motivated University of Idaho teachers-in-training to purchase $1,100 worth of books for North Idaho children. The books will be distributed through the U.S. Marine’s Toys for Tots program, Books for Tots.

The money came from two distinctive student projects.

Each year, University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene education students in Professor Cheri Major’s social studies methods class work with students in Dona Pettoello Post Falls Middle School 7th grade class.

This year, Pettoello’s class has been learning about Mesopotamia, an ancient region of southwest Asia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern-day Iraq. Mesopotamia is known as the birthplace of the written word. The University of Idaho students helped teach and support Pettoello’s lesson plan. To bring home the lesson about the region’s importance to the history of literacy, and particularly, to writing itself, the university students worked with seventh graders to make flower-topped pens. The university students sold the pens, ultimately raising $700.

With the theme of literacy in mind, Books for Tots seemed the perfect investment for the funds.

University of Idaho students Alice Downing, Amanda Corning, Jennifer Jones and Jessica Browning all were instrumental in the planning and implementation of the service learning project, which simultaneously met college curriculum goals and the state standards for 7th grade social studies.

Additionally, $400 was raised by the North Idaho College and University of Idaho Education Club, in an effort led by University of Idaho student Erika Willy. Willy worked with three other club officers to write a grant seeking funding for Books for Tots.

Books for Tots, like Toys for Tots, go to low-income children, who are less likely to have books in their homes. Many studies have revealed that early disadvantage as one that shapes children’s futures dramatically.

A 2005 study revealed that only 31 percent of children entering 4th grade read at a “proficient” or better level, and the proficiency gap widened in keeping with socioeconomic status. The study found that a child from a middle-income family typically enters 1st grade with about 1,000 hours of one-on-one picture book reading time with parents, other relatives or teachers. A child from a low-income family averaged less than 100 hours.

As a result, 1st graders from lower-income families have about half the size of vocabulary of children from higher-income families.

By age 3, children in lower income homes will have heard only one-third as many words as children in middle and high-income homes, putting kids from low-income homes at a disadvantage academically as well as financially.

The students hope their gift will positively impact the children in Christmas present, and in Christmas future.
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation classification for high research activity. The student population of 12,302 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, the 2009 Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl champions. For more information, visit

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit