The Michigan Literacy Project (MLP) at Grand Valley State University looks to provide quality, educational literature to recent College of Education graduates teaching in K-5 classrooms in Michigan public schools. Recently, the MLP was awarded a $2,500 grant from the Meemic Foundation to help six new teachers in six under-served schools.

Research from hundreds of studies shows that the best readers read the most and poor readers read the least, as reported by the National Reading Panel in 2000. Though this may not come as much of a surprise to most, it is something that should be considered.

Many children, particularly those from lower income families, do not have access to reading materials outside of the classroom. Sometimes, the only chance students have to read is in the classroom. The more a child reads, the greater their word recognition, fluency, vocabulary, general knowledge and ultimately, their reading comprehension. It is important that we put value on helping teachers have the proper materials for students in the classroom.

The average salary for a teacher in Michigan is $61,560. Salaries for public school teachers in Michigan declined 8 percent between the 2012-2013 school years — the third largest decline found among states, according to data from the National Education Association. With rising amounts of student loans for new teachers, this salary does not allow for a large amount of excess purchases for the classroom. Projects such as the MLP are needed to fill in the gaps that state funding leaves.

For new teachers, running a classroom without books can make it hard to get students to read and keep them interested in learning. Books have the ability to teach kids skills like reading comprehension and word recognition, but they’re also fun. Books can take kids to another world, spark their imagination and inspire them to learn and to read more.

With so much focus on college readiness across the nation, preparation should be emphasized in lower elementary by ensuring that students have all the materials they need to be successful. That is the time when learning is first introduced to possible future college students, and it should be prioritized as such. We need to make sure that we are enabling students to be the best they can be by helping provide materials to make that an option. Groups like the MLP should be commended for their efforts to create the best classroom environment, and it’s on us to make sure they succeed.

To contribute to the MLP, anyone can submit monetary donations or bring in new or gently used books to the College of Education, located on the Pew Campus in downtown Grand Rapids.