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Thursday, 22 December 2011 15:11

Private donation to start library at John Davidson School in Coaldale

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Submitted by Palliser Regional Schools
A Palliser teacher and her husband — a Lethbridge entrepreneur — are donating $5,000 to John Davidson School in Coaldale to start a school library to serve students and their families in hopes they will unlock the life-changing potential of literacy, just as her own family did.

Connie Adserballe was raised in a home without books, by parents whose first language was not English and who themselves had no more than a Grade 8 education.

Today, she is completing her Master’s degree specializing in literacy and she serves as the literacy coach to teachers across Palliser Regional Schools.

In addition to teaching, she and husband, Jacob Adserballe, own and operate the Family Pet Hospital in Lethbridge.

“The first time I visited John Davidson School, a lot of what I saw reminded me of my own life,” Connie says.

“My parents didn’t speak English when they started school and although they spoke Low German to each other, my mother insisted on all things English for us. They worked hard and they knew they wanted a better life for their own children.”

They didn’t know what form that better life would take, until they met with one particular teacher in their small, rural school in Saskatchewan. During a parent-teacher interview to discuss their eldest daughter’s schooling, the teacher, Eveline Schuster, mentioned the teen could go to university.

That interview served to give Connie’s parents “permission to dream bigger.”

Eventually, all five children would pursue some post-secondary education.

Connie’s own father, Delmer, grew to be literate and extremely well read, teaching himself as his own children learned to read.

“He became a very good reader,” Connie says.

With help from his daughters, he completed his high-school education. When he passed away in 2008, he left Connie a library full of Shakespeare and other classics.

“People who knew him only later in his life saw my dad as an advocate for reading,” she says, marvelling at the self-taught man who built a violin, pored over chemistry textbooks in order to help his children with their homework and was a master cabinet maker.

“We became readers as a family by reading books together.”

As Connie recognized herself in the Low German Mennonite students of John Davidson School, she realized she and her husband could help give them the tools to dream bigger for themselves.

“Together we will ensure learning success for all students to develop their unique potential as caring citizens in a changing world.

“I wanted for them the two things that I had: I had a library at my school and a teacher who could dream bigger than my parents could.”

John Davidson School was closed for many years before it reopened in fall 2009 as an alternative program serving children from the Low German Mennonite community.

The school has about 100 students, most of whom come to school without any knowledge of English. The school provides the regular Alberta program of studies, in English, in a setting that respects the LGM faith.

For many families, education has not been a priority in the past, and some people have suggested it will take generations for attitudes to change. Adserballe says that’s not always the case. For families like hers, the transformation was quick thanks to the resources at her school and her forward-thinking parents.

For Adserballe, the presence of a library is essential to any school as part of a literacy-rich environment in which children are surrounded by print in all its forms.

“Even the idea of a comfy chair surrounded by books show students that reading is important,” Connie says.

With the right resources, every student can achieve success, she says, crediting Palliser Regional Schools for identifying literacy as a priority at every grade level.

John Davidson Principal Janice Loitz says the new library will be set up on the school’s stage, literally setting the stage for student success. She envisions a library filled with books for all levels of readers, including parents.

While Adserballe has a deeply personal appreciation for the value of literacy, as a literacy coach she is also keenly aware of the value of literacy to all Canadians, citing a Statistics Canada survey that found every one per cent increase in literacy rates equates to $32 billion in national income.

“How can we not make that a priority?” she asks.

To donate to the John Davidson School library fund, please contact Loitz at 403-345-3161.

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