What began as “a seed of an idea” for Reading Specialist Bev Doleac to get books on shelves into the hands of Ardmore Elementary students has expanded into a book swap program that has become another part of growing students’ love of reading.

“It’s incredible when you look at really strong readers and how many words they might have read between kindergarten and fifth grade,” said Doleac. “And those students who are struggling readers or developing readers have so much less mileage.”

Helping students build their skills and confidence as readers is key in helping them become prolific readers. To that end, Doleac and VIBES volunteer Therese Delaney have created a book swap program for students with Delaney taking on the role of personal librarian.

“The program Therese and I have developed is working with targeted students that are not meeting standard, to help them have books that they can personally choose and take to read at home.” Doleac explained. “We are targeting those kids that we really want to improve their love of reading and thereby improve their skills in reading because we know that you learn to read by reading, and the more reading you do the better reader you become.”

Doleac added that the book swap is about giving students ownership over their reading, allowing them to find the kinds of stories they like, and gain reading mileage in a way that is purely fun. Students are assessed to determine their reading level periodically, but they aren’t graded on what they do – or don’t – read.

Delaney meets with students once a week, a time when students can choose titles from the book swap library and return ones they are finished with. She also learns about students’ interests and what kinds of stories they enjoy.

“There’s absolutely no consequence for them taking home ten different types of books that they never looked at before, leafing through all of them, not liking any of them, bringing them back and trading them out until they find something they do like,” Delaney said.

As for the books themselves, Delaney searches through used book stores and online deals to build the book swap collection.

The program started as one morning a week in January 2014, and this year grew to two mornings a week, serving 71 students in grades 2-5.

Doleac and Delaney work with teachers who recommend students for the program as well as students who seek out the opportunity.

“Some students come up to Therese and say, “Can I have some too?”‘ Doleac said. “We try to accommodate everyone that we can.”

All the books in the book swap library are assigned a reading level so that students can be guided to books appropriate for them. Information from the district’s STAR testing program helps to determine each student’s reading zone.

“I think student ownership is the key to this whole thing because the students come to us and we give them complete control over the books they read,” Delaney said. “We do that so their own interests are driving their reading. We pay attention and we encourage them to stay within their success zone. When they go home to read these books it’s easy for them and it’s fun. They have this really great experience at home which helps build their confidence and helps them want to come back for more. And they do.”

Doleac said it is estimated that students need to read a million words in elementary school. And, she said, becoming a prolific reader not only helps students academically but can also apply to social emotional learning.

“If you are a reader and you see yourself as a reader you have a stronger self-image as a learner and our goal is to develop lifelong learners and readers,” Doleac said. “Not just, can you be successful in this textbook or on this test? But do you understand that reading is something you can do your whole life and love, and it can take you places that you may never travel.”

For Delaney, seeing students develop a love of reading is priceless.

“One of my things that I say all the time is that, ‘My job is to help you find what you love to read,” Delaney said.

And, Delaney said, she sees the enthusiasm that students have when they enjoy a book.

“When they read books they want to tell you about it,” Delaney said. “They are so excited. When their (reading) level goes up, they know it’s them that did it. They begin to take control of their own reading. And that builds readers. That’s our goal.”

The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.