HIGHTSTOWN – The Grace N. Rogers Elementary School celebrated the opening of the first Reading Oasis Room in the county with a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week.

“I would like to thank the board of education and the East Windsor Education Association for bringing this grant to our school,” said Principal Heather Gladkowski.

“It has been a pleasure working with you,” she told Denise Daniels, director of community outreach and volunteer services for United Way of Greater Mercer County. “We are so grateful for the resources that you have provided.”

Local and school officials and dignitaries, along with students, participated in the event, which was sponsored by United Way of Greater Mercer County.

A Reading Oasis is a designated space in a school where kids and families have access to more than 400 books year round in a kid-friendly environment. United Way Club Connect is a national website featuring additional materials such as games, author interviews, and videos related to materials located in the Reading Oasis library.

“The Reading Oasis started as just an idea,” said Ms. Gladkowski. “It was an idea for a comfortable place for all of you to come to and boy did it turn into something bigger than I ever thought it would be and that happened because of the teachers at the school.”

She thanked several teachers for creating this vision and their team.

“I would also like to thank our students, our art leaders, who made a lot of the artwork that you see around here,” she said.

She said that the kindergartners created the letters that are on the Chicka Chicka tree. “Also the fifth-graders, who created the potions for the Harry Potter wall,” she said.

United Way of Greater Mercer County President and Chief Executive Officer Herbert Klein said the organization is excited to be part of the initiative.

“This is our very first Reading Oasis,” he said. “We wanted to do this because we want to have one of these in every school in Mercer County.”

He said the group wanted to participate for a lot of different reasons.

“One is a partnership between the school, your teachers, your community, United Way and our partners and you guys, your partners too,” he said. “Without you this is just a room. So you have to make sure that you use it.”

Mr. Klein said that the reason got involved was because of its belief in reading and early reading readiness.

“Why is it important? Because now until you are in third grade, you learn how to read. And then after third grade, your learning often comes from reading on your own,” he said.

Mr. Klein said that his grandparents instilled in him the love of reading. “Realizing that with reading I could learn anything,” he said.

He told the students that he wanted them to do two things for him.

“First thing I want you to do is use this space, it’s very important,” he said. “The second thing I want you to do is I want you tell everyone about it. Tell them we want to do more of these and maybe some adults will hear you and they will help us.”

East Windsor Township Mayor Janice Mironov said it was great to be part of the program.

“I can’t think of greater groups to be with this morning beyond our students, our teachers, United Way, and our school district, all great partners to bring together here and supporters of the program,” she said.

She said this is important to focus on reading.

“You learn how to write well. How to speak well. You need to read because that helps you with both of those,” said the mayor. “I am really excited that we are focusing on reading. That we are being a pioneer in the program because we like to be out and in front on the important things here in East Windsor and our East Windsor Regional School District.”

She said the room is terrific and asked how many of them helped decorate the room as students raised their hands.

“All of you did a tremendous job,” she said. “That’s the first thing that everyone was talking about when they walked in was how creative and how well done the room is.”

The front of the room by the door had a section with a carpet that said “Time to Read” that was set up with a rocking chair, bean bags, and a book rack on the wall. Throughout the room were sections done in themes from various popular children’s books from Dr. Seuss, Chick Chicka Boom, Harry Potter, and much more.

“It is really important that this looks well and that students want to sit in here and want to use it, they want to read,” she said.

Student Council member Meghan Sharpe, 10, of Hightstown took a few minutes to address the group.

“Dear Mr. Klein and United Way, thank you for all the books you have donated to us,” she said. “I think that all the books you gave us will be loved by our students.”

Meghan also said the students like the listening center as well.

“The students will be able to take accelerated reader quizzes on the computers,” she said, adding that she loves taking quizzes on the program accelerated reader. “Usually, I get really good scores, but sometimes I just want to read to have fun, she said.

She said that she thinks the kids will have fun and be very comfortable sitting in the fluffy, colorful bean bags.

Jayda Sullivan, 9, of East Windsor ,said that the top five things to do in their Reading Oasis are to read a good fit book in their ZPD levels, buddy read with younger students or use PALs, search for a good fit book to enjoy, research for projects in the classroom, and center and reading activities.

“We now have extra space to spread out,” she said.

Ms. Daniels said that it just means a lot to us that they were able to bring something so special. She said that they hope the students enjoy it and use it and learn from it and it goes on for a very long time.

“Having kids read for fun, to learn, and just to enjoy each other and the adults and the kids to do this all together,” she said.

Ms. Daniels said that Mr. Klein is the reason they were there because of his donation that this is now in existence.

“This is just the start,” she said. “We hope we will have these in every school. All the children in Mercer County should be able to have a space like this.”

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