In what has become a yearly tradition for the Bristol Rotary Club, members began visiting schools in the Bristol Warren Regional School District. But instead of the club offering disaster relief, one of the major missions that Rotary fulfills, its members delivered gifts of literacy, distributing a copy of an historical fiction book to each of the district’s fifth grade students.
On Tuesday, Nov. 13, Rotary members Melinda Thies, Deborah Metaxas and Cidalia Rodrigues delivered the first 45 books on Tuesday, part of the 500 they purchased through fund-raising efforts to help promote literacy among elementary school students. On Friday, they visited Hugh Cole School, where 100 fifth graders there received their gifts.
Before giving the books to the students, the club’s representatives, superintendent Melinda Thies, Rotary president, Deborah Metaxas, and past president, Cidalia Rodrigues spoke about the Rotary and its motto – service above self – using Hurricane Sandy as a talking point.
“If you can imagine this kind of devastation,” said Ms. Metaxas. “Rotary ships shelter boxes (to victims)that have everything you need to survive in the storm.”
But humanitarian service isn’t just about disasters, she said. She also explained the purpose of their visit to the school, while not to address an emergency, it was to bring the club’s “literacy project for the world,” another of Rotary’s objectives, to the local level.
As in past years, the Rotary Club of Bristol embarked on a fund-raising effort to purchase books to be given away to students in the Bristol Warren Regional School District. Last year, each eighth grader at Kickemuit Middle School received a copy of Astronomica, a non-fiction book that illustrates and educates about the planets and stars in the universe. A year prior, all third graders in the district received a dictionary that they could keep to help them with their vocabulary. This year, all fifth graders in the district will receive a copy of a book entitled, “Jump Ship to Freedom,” a novel written by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier. The book was recommended by Ms. Thies who, after reading the book herself, thought it would be of interest to this age group.
The story tells of a child born into slavery and whose freedom was paid for by his mother. When she died, however, the payment was not recognized by the plantation owner and the boy had to decide whether to jump from the slave ship and fight for freedom when it docked in New York or return to the West Indies where he would undoubtedly be returned to a life of slavery.
At Hugh Cole, most of the 100 students who were listening to the Rotary members raised their hands when asked if they liked to read. Then Ms. Thies explained the reason for the Rotary’s visit.
“We want you to enjoy reading because it’s fun, not because you’re going to get a test on it. Just for the fun of it,” Ms. Thies said.
After receiving the literary gift, the students returned with a collective and resounding “thank you.” That was, however, before Michael McGee, one of the teachers at Guiteras shared his idea. He, too, looked forward to using the novel in his classroom where students blend literacy and social studies.
“This ties right into our curriculum,” he said. “I have a funny feeling I can tie in a little writing too.”