Click photo to enlarge
Fisher Elementary students read during an event at the school. Fisher participates in the “Reading is Fundamental” program, which provides students with books of their own. (Gary Baker)

ARLINGTON -- Each of the 205 students at Fisher Elementary School will have the opportunity to read at home, thanks to the "Reading is Fundamental" program.

The national non-profit program, which was founded by a group of schoolteachers and volunteers in Washington D.C., in 1966, has given away more than 380 million new, free books to students across the country. The program received a major boost in 1975, when Congress passed the "Inexpensive Book Distribution Program," which provides federal matching funds to sites that are utilizing the RIF program, however, funds from that program are no longer available.

In Arlington, the program is organized by three former Fisher Elementary educators -- Susan Bauers, Valerie Oakland, and Yvonne Sutton -- who volunteer their time on a committee to make the program a success.

Each student receives a new book of their choosing three times every year. Fisher School has been participating in this program every year for more than 30 years.

"We know that across the country, 60 percent of lower-income homes don't have books," said Oakland, a former first-grade teacher who was one of the directors of RIF, "When you allow children the power to choose their own book, they become invested in reading."

Prior to each distribution section, volunteers preview some of the available selections with the students. According to RIF's website, "Dozens of books are displayed, allowing children to explore their interests and make their own choices."

"We strive to find appropriate book selections that match the students' ability levels and interests," said Sutton, a former assistant librarian. According to Oakland, the books are selected by the committee, with input from classroom teachers, who may request books on a specific theme that they're studying.

While the students are able to receive the books at no cost to them, the school still must bear the expense. However, several local partners help the school fund the program, including the Bank of Bennington, Mack Molding, Orvis, and Quadra Tech.

"We couldn't make this program work without the support and generosity of these businesses," said Bauers.

Oakland spoke to the difficulty of funding the project, saying, "It's been hard recently to pay for the program, because we have to purchase the entire order." She mentioned that the committee is reaching out to try and find more donations, but that many local businesses are unable to help as they are already donating to so many other programs and organizations.

The specific program utilized by Fisher is RIF's flagship program, "Books for Ownership."

"This program is vital for children who have no books in their homes, who have limited access to libraries and bookstores, and who, without RIF, would not experience the thrill of owning their own books," reads RIF's website.

The program in Arlington is supported by many volunteers in addition to Bauers, Oakland, and Sutton, including John Werner, Judy Werner, and Donna Bazyk, Fisher's reading specialist, according to a release from the school.

Fisher Elementary School serves students in grades pre-K through five in the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union. According to a press release, "The Fisher Elementary School mission is to create a safe, caring, and respectful environment where students are able to achieve their academic potential."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB