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NMSU to work with nine Las Cruces schools for children's book evaluation program

About 2,500 elementary and middle school students in Las Cruces will participate in a two-year reading program that will help the International Reading Association identify the country's best and most popular children's books over the next two years, said Anita Hernandez, who holds New Mexico State University's Kidd Chair in Literacy.



New Mexico State University students Sydney Shannon, left, and Melissa Hernandez label and prepare books for delivery to Las Cruces area schools. Local school children will read and evaluate the books as part of the national Children's Choices book review program. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Hernandez is coordinating the reading project, which is a partnership between NMSU's College of Education/Curriculum and Instruction and LCPS.

With grant funding from the International Reading Association, which publishes the Children's Choices reading list each year, students at César E. Chávez, Dońa Ana, Hermosa Heights, Hillrise, MacArthur, Sunrise and University Hills elementaries, and sixth-graders at Lynn Middle School will participate in the project, along with sixth graders at La Academia de Dolores Huerta and students at NMSU's lab school in Gadsden, Hernandez said.

"Approximately 700 book titles will be read and evaluated for Children's Choices 2014," she said.

The books, all published in 2013, are sent by various publishers to five review teams in different regions of the United States.

"Each team consists of a children's literature specialist, literacy professors, classroom teachers, school librarians and 2,500 children (grades K-6) in their region. Las Cruces is Team 3. Our team would not be complete without Jennifer Villa, NMSU's Learning Resource Center director, who has helped with the organization of approximately 5,000 books to be sorted for K-6 classrooms. Throughout the school year, the books are in classrooms, being read to or by children and children vote on their favorite books," Hernandez said.

Students' votes for their favorite books will be tabulated in February 2014 and the top 100 or so titles will be announced at the annual convention, May 10-12, 2014 in New Orleans. And, the review teams' annotations for each winning title will be published in the October 2014 issue of "The Reading Teacher" journal, Hernandez said.

"This award depicts Dr. Hernandez's commitment to our children and epitomizes how faculty and staff from the College of Education work with local schools and the community," said NMSU College of Education Dean Michael Morehead. "Because of the wonderful gift by Don and Sarrah Kidd, we were able to recruit Dr. Hernandez to NMSU."

"This is indeed a wonderful opportunity for our students in LCPS," said Deputy Superintendent Steven Sanchez. "We are all looking forward to the titles selected by the students."

"I am thrilled and I know LCPS is also happy to have been selected to participate in the Children's Choices project. While the project is centered in southern New Mexico and Las Cruces, we are part of a larger national research project. The participating teachers and children can look forward to the selection of the winning titles and know that they helped select the winning books for the entire country," Hernandez said. "The books are beautiful and after seeing all the titles, my hope is that the children will enjoy reading the picture books and children's novels."

The reading program partnership will continue through the 2014-15 school year.

"Our focus next year is to encourage the publishers to send more bilingual books so that children who are becoming bilingual can practice reading in both their languages. This fits in well with New Mexico's diverse population that views languages as resources," Hernandez said.

The Kidds' endowment to the College of Education allows Hernandez to seek grants and organize literacy activities such as the reading project. The endowment also sponsors the Kidd Literacy Conference, which provides professional development opportunities for local teachers. The fourth annual conference was held last March at Centennial High School. The 2014 conference will be held next spring.

The International Reading Association is a professional organization for teachers and reading teachers/coaches interested in advancing the field of reading and reading instruction. The Children's Choice reading project began in 1998.

For more information, contact Hernandez at 575.646.4084 or achernan@nmsu.edu.