Literacy project promotes reading with new initiative

GVL / Courtesy - Amanda Pitts 
The Ronald McDonald House charity fund donates $20,000 to literacy project

GVL / Courtesy – Amanda Pitts The Ronald McDonald House charity fund donates $20,000 to literacy project

Ashlyn Korienek

The school bell rings, children scurry to their desks and wait for the teacher to begin class. Reading is the first subject. The bookshelves appear vacant as funding is unavailable for quality supplies.

Without access to books, teaching literacy can be difficult for elementary school teachers. The Michigan Literacy Project (MLP) gives quality literature to recent GVSU College of Education (COE) graduates who are teaching in K-5 classrooms within under-served Michigan public schools.

Sheryl Vlietstra and Megan Freudigmann, affiliate professors within GVSU’s COE, and COE staff member Forrest Clift started the initiative in 2014 to aid new teachers in building classroom libraries.

“What started this is my daughter Kacy went off to teach fourth grade in inner-city Chicago,” she said. “She was given a big empty classroom with no books or financial resources to begin her own classroom library. Every cent she made went to food, rent and school expenses.”

Vlietstra said more than 1,500 book donations were accepted from the Grand Haven community for Kacy’s classroom after word spread on her cause. In 2013, the MLP pilot received a grant from the Meemic Foundation for $2,500 helping six new teachers in six under-served schools.

“Often when new teachers begin their careers they are thrilled to be landing a first teaching job,” Vlietstra said. “They arrive with new energy, but sadly despite their drive the job comes with ill-equipped classrooms or no funding. The MLP team recognizes that literature is essential to the success of classroom curriculum.”

Recently, to benefit the cause, representatives from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Outstate Michigan presented a check for $20,000 to the COE MLP. Vlietstra said the grant helps the MLP to provide 45 classroom libraries over the next three years.

On Nov. 13, Lesa Dion, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Outstate Michigan, and Randell G. Price, owner of the Allendale McDonald’s, presented the donation at the L. William Seidman Center.

“As the next three pass,” Vlietstra said, “The MLP team will continue to seek Grand Valley alumni who are new teachers in Michigan public school districts. High priority will be given to schools with elevated poverty rates, limited district resources and poor academic achievement.”

The program requires the applicant to be a COE graduate, teaching for three years or less in a public school in Michigan and in an under-served school with a high need of quality literature.

For 2016, the deadline for applicants is Jan. 15, and grant recipients will be notified by Feb. 1, as the books are distributed in early March. Vlietstra said high priority is given to those who detail a clear plan for implementing their libraries.

“What we are doing here is providing classic quality literature,” Vlietstra said. “Students can use the classroom libraries to not only reinforce their understanding of academic content, but to gain access to world beyond their circumstances.”

For more information or to apply, visit,