VINTON–Heather Balsley, the librarian at William Byrd Middle School, has been awarded a grant for $4,000 from the Patterson Partnership. The partnership was formed by world-renowned author James Patterson and Scholastic Reading, best known as sponsors of book fairs in schools throughout the country.
Last spring Patterson announced that he would donate $1.25 million to school libraries to help promote literacy. The number of applications for the grants and the needs of the schools were so overwhelming that Patterson upped his donation to $1.75 million. Scholastic Reading will match each dollar in grants with “Bonus Points,” which teachers can use to acquire books and other materials for their classrooms at every school that receives an award.
Applications were accepted from March through May of 2015 from any American school serving Pre-K through grade 12. An estimated 28,000 applications were received; only 467 schools nationwide received the grants including WBMS and Hidden Valley High School in Roanoke County.
The funds will be used at WBMS entirely for the purchase of print books. Balsley hopes to be able to buy about 300 books in all.
She surmised that the topic of her grant proposal made the difference for WBMS. In an application which had one question—“What would your school library do with $1,000 to $10,000?” and was limited to 300 words, she focused on up-to-the-minute topics in education and said that she would spend the grant on the purchase of books related to innovative technology.
The grant money at WBMS would be earmarked for books which would peak the interest of students and encourage them to read about technology and creative projects involving the school’s Makerspace, 3-D printer, coding, and simple robotics resources.
She wanted books for her students which could help them create projects involving the media such as green screens and podcasts. She also looked for “paired reading projects” which would allow two students to read the same book and write letters (on paper) to one another discussing the content and then complete projects together based on the subject matter.
She says that students actually request books on technology nowadays and are eager to read about Makerspace and coding projects and even ask for books on engineering. She always has an eye out for books which inspire an interest in technology.
Balsley said her purchase orders are complete. The school received the check on January 4 and she is ready to proceed. She applied last spring and was notified that she won in September, approved for more funds than she requested.
In her career, she has completed numerous grant proposals and has made it her goal to focus on what is trending in education at the moment while still emphasizing the “four C’s”–collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication–in all projects, lessons, and grant applications.
This has been a good year for Balsley who also received resources for the library, and the Makerspace project in particular, when she was named the Chick-Fil-A teacher of the year from WBMS.
Balsley, who grew up in Vinton and graduated from William Byrd High School, completed her undergraduate and Master’s degree programs at Radford University, and obtained her library endorsement from the University of Virginia. She has been the librarian at WBMS for about 11 years. In 2013 she completed the requirements to become a National Board Certified Teacher—a rare accomplishment achieved by only about three percent of teachers in the United States.
National Board Certification is part of the growing education reform movement intended to advance student learning and improve teaching across the nation.
Balsley said completing the NBCT program “made me aware that I need to be an advocate for the library program, to promote the library and its activities, to incorporate the library in every class throughout the school,” said Balsley.
Her mission has always been to alter the stereotypical image of libraries as quiet, sedate settings. She also partners with the Vinton Public Library to develop programs involving her middle school students.
“Heather is an outstanding librarian who always goes above and beyond to help students,” said WBMS principal Tammy Newcomb.
“I am really pleased at the dedication and professionalism of Heather Balsley to obtain the grant for additional books for the WBMS library,” said Roanoke County Schools Superintendent Dr. Greg Killough.
In announcing the Patterson Partnership, James Patterson wrote that the grants are his “humble acknowledgment of some of the terrific work taking place in libraries.”
Patterson says the goal of the grant program is to get more books in the hands of children: “We’re at a pivotal moment in our history. School libraries are shutting their doors left and right, despite the fact that it’s more important than ever for a child to grow up with a school librarian.”
He said he is donating money for the grants because he believes that fewer children are growing up in a household full of books–and that the effects of this absence could have a profound impact on a child’s future, and on the future of America.
Patterson stated that, “the idea of a treat was a little different when I was a kid. For me, a treat was when my mother brought my sister and me to the library on Saturday.”
He believes that every child in America should have access to books and a functioning school library, and that improvements in school libraries will foster children’s love of reading and boost their academic achievement overall.
Patterson has said that the grants in partnership with Scholastic aim to address the lack of print books in many school libraries across the country. “There’s a myth out there among some people that the kids are reading only digital books now,” he said. “They’re not.”
Balsley says that in her experience students often become enamored with Kindle books for a time, but frequently return in a few months to again check out print books.
Patterson is a popular writer not just with adults but also with middle and high school students and has begun writing for elementary students, as well. He has sold 300 million books worldwide and has had more New York Times bestsellers than any other writer. He also has more #1 New York Times bestselling books for children than any other living author. He is becoming just as well known in the publishing world for his philanthropy, after giving more than $1 million to independent bookstores across the country since 2013 and has now followed up with the Patterson Partnership grants.