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Benton Harbor Students Return from Spring Break to Find New Diverse Classroom Libraries

MDE works with local school district to improve student literacy

LANSING – State Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice was in Benton Harbor this morning for the unveiling of new diverse classroom libraries in all Benton Harbor Area Schools elementary schools through a partnership between the district and the Michigan Department of Education (MDE).

MDE employees, staff from Benton Harbor schools and the Berrien Regional Educational Service Agency, and volunteers from Whirlpool worked all last week to assemble and install 32 diverse classroom libraries. They created libraries with more than 3,400 books, 128 bean bag chairs, bright and welcoming rugs, and 128 bookshelves.

“That looks like me,” Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School second-grader Infinity said as Dr. Rice held up a picture in the book “Change Sings” by Amanda Gorman, the country’s poet laureate. That’s exactly what the state superintendent wanted to hear.

“I’m thrilled that Benton Harbor Area Schools has embraced the importance of engaging students in literacy through diverse literature and an approach grounded in literacy research,” Dr. Rice said. “Diverse classroom libraries are important because children need access to books in which they see themselves reflected and can learn about others. When students have books that engage them, they read more. The more they read, the better readers they become.”

The installation happened during spring break, which provided excitement as students returned to classes today.

State and local educators celebrated by visiting with children as they first experienced their new libraries at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. Children at Discovery Enrichment Center and Fair Plain East Elementary School also had new classroom libraries, with a classroom library in every pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade classroom. Teachers, families, and community members chose the more than 100 books for each grade level.

During the recently completed March is Reading Month, local school districts and MDE highlighted what they are doing to create diverse classroom libraries.

Books selected by the Benton Harbor community include “Black is a Rainbow Color” by Angela Joy, “Hair Love” by Matthew A. Cherry, “Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks,” and “Alma and How She Got Her Name” by Juana Martinez-Neal.

“Our goal is to ensure that our students have access to resources that reflect a broad spectrum of experiences and backgrounds,” said Dr. Kelvin Butts, superintendent of Benton Harbor Area Schools. “We believe that by doing so, we can foster a more understanding, empathetic, and inclusive generation of learners that have a passion for reading."

The diverse classroom libraries are funded with federal and MDE funds, including the Michigan Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grant, a competitive federal literacy grant awarded to MDE by the U.S. Department of Education, for which MDE named Benton Harbor a subgrantee.

Improving early literacy achievement is Goal 2 in Michigan’s Top 10 Strategic Education Plan. Teachers in all three Benton Harbor elementary schools have been involved in training in Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling – commonly known as LETRS. LETRS training helps educators teach reading through a research-based approach, which Michigan schools are increasingly emphasizing to ensure all students have the necessary skills to read accurately and fluently, and with strong comprehension. Over the last three years, more than 7,300 Michigan educators have enrolled in or have completed the extensive LETRS training, a partnership between Lexia Learning and MDE.


Benton Harbor Class - diverse library 2024

Shown is State Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice reading with children at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Benton Harbor.


Benton Harbor School Visit April 2024

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