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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Pasadena Park Elementary School library uses grant to buy audiobooks, enhancing students’ literacy

Reading interventionist Erin Maier in her Pasadena Park Elementary School classroom. (Nina Culver / The Spokesman-Review)
Reading interventionist Erin Maier in her Pasadena Park Elementary School classroom. (Nina Culver / The Spokesman-Review)

Audio books will be coming to the Pasadena Park Elementary School library this spring thanks to a $10,500 grant from the Hagan Foundation.

Reading interventionist Erin Maier applied for the grant as a way to improve and enhance literacy at the school.

“I have, within the last couple of years, become a huge fan of audio books,” she said.

The books are essentially acted out, with either one or several actors giving voice to each character using varying accents and inflections.

“It’s almost like watching a movie,” she said. “The story just comes to life.”

The Argonne branch of the Spokane County Library District is just down the road and it offers audio books through the OverDrive program, which the school’s fifth-graders started using a couple years ago, Maier said. The catch is that there is sometimes a waiting list to check out an audiobook title and access to the title expires after a certain amount of time.

Maier said she was looking for other audio book options when she discovered the Playaway audio books. The books are preloaded on a small, iPod-like device.

“The kids just need headphones,” she said.

Listening to an audio book is similar to being read to, Maier said.

“There’s so much power in being read to,” she said.

Using an audio book can also be a benefit to a struggling reader, Maier said. She plans to buy physical copies of the audio books so students can follow along in the book as they go. Using an audio book can also ensure that even students who have trouble reading can participate in discussions about the book or answer questions on a quiz.

“They’re still hearing the story and can keep up with their peers,” she said.

The students who used the OverDrive audio books liked the experience, she said.

“They’re actually able to stay on task with their reading goals,” she said. “They love it.”

Principal Brad Liberg said the benefits of improved literacy is clear. Studies show students who read only a minute a day will score in the 10th percentile on standardized tests, a score that rises to the 90th percentile for students who read 20 minutes a day.

“It just compounds,” he said. “The more kids have these experiences at a young age they further they will go in the future.”

Finding 20 spare minutes a day for reading can be a challenge, Maier said. Audio books are something kids can listen to while they’re in the car on their way to sports practice or other activities.

“A lot of kids do sports,” she said. “They’re busy.”

It’s also hard to get students who have difficulty reading to take the time to read on their own, she said. The audio books can change that.

“Listening to audio books is just as powerful as reading,” she said. “They’ve done research on that. You’re still going through the same process. It just looks different.”

Maier plans to purchase between 100 and 120 Playaway devices. She said since she’s buying in bulk she’ll be able to get a 30% discount, making the grant money stretch even further. Maier said she is working to select a variety of books at different reading levels.

“I’m really trying to focus on getting a good array of genres,” she said.

She will also purchase headphones and batteries so kids who check out the Playaway audio books don’t have to worry about providing them.

Now Maier is trying to figure out the specifics of how the audio book program will work and whether students will be able to take the devices home. “They are expensive,” she said. “What I’m passionate about is sending them home with kids. There are some logistics to work out.”

She hopes to have the Playaway audio books ready to go this spring, Maier said. “I think it will be great,” she said. “I’m excited to get them out to the kids.”

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