CBE students raise money for books and literacy resources for Calgary schools in need

Calgary students are raising money for books and other literacy resources at their schools as part of a new initiative by EducationMatters, a charitable trust that raises money for programs and resources at Calgary Board of Education schools.

The Loonies for Literacy fundraising program will run for the month of May. Students will raise money for literacy resources through their own fundraising events and community donations. 

Alicia Hope-Ross, fund development and communications officer at EducationMatters, said individual schools can decide what literacy resources they raise the money for. That could range from new library books to decodable texts — books that phonetically break down words for young readers. 

“It’s really up to what the school’s needs are,” said Hope-Ross. 

The amount of funds students raise for their own schools will be matched and distributed to other CBE schools that are more in need, according to EducationMatters. Hope-Ross said local businesses and sponsors will help match those funds. So far, Loonies for Literacy has received $51,000 in donations from sponsors.

Literacy is an overarching need in our society.– Marilyn Field, EducationMatters executive director

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised about how community members have really come above and beyond,” said Hope-Ross. 

Marilyn Field, executive director of EducationMatters, said the organization will work with the literacy team at the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) to determine which schools are in need of the extra funding. 

“They’re hands-on with the schools. They know where there are gaps and where additional resources could be helpful,” said Field. 

Field said CBE schools can always use more funding for books and other literacy tools. 

“Literacy is an overarching need in our society,” said Field. 

“Yes, the government provides some funding, but we’re always needing to update libraries and include new resources, new texts, new information for students.”

Ten CBE schools have registered for the initiative so far, said Field. 

Equitable school funding

Patricia Bolger, CBE trustee for Wards 6 and 7, said the Loonies for Literacy fundraiser is a great opportunity for students “to involve themselves in their own learning.”

“It is certainly nice if they know they are helping, you know, potentially other students in their city,” she said.

Bolger said the CBE uses an equity index system when budgeting to determine which schools are more in need of funding and resources. According to Bolger, there are about 168 factors that are part of the equity index, including immigrant or refugee population and parental completion of high school.

EducationMatters hopes to continue the Loonies for Literacy campaign as an annual fundraising event. (EducationMatters)

“We know that there are schools that definitely have higher needs potentially for resources, you know, they might not have … the support [they] might need,” Bolger said. 

For Nikhil Sonpal, CEO of Calgary-based technology company Mobility Quotient, equitable funding for literacy resources was an important reason to get involved. His company, the lead sponsor of Loonies for Literacy, has donated $25,000. 

Sonpal said his own kids are “avid readers,” and he and his wife often read together with them.

“There are kids within the school system that can’t afford that quote-unquote ‘luxury.’ It breaks my heart,” Sonpal said.

Sonpal said literacy and comprehension are incredibly important skills for tech sector workers. 

“I really promote continuous learning, and part of that is elevated comprehension skills,” said Sonpal.

“I think that’s much needed within the tech industry itself because it evolves so quickly and … I think it needs to happen within the educational system.”

Making up for pandemic learning losses

One important reason for starting the literacy fundraiser now is to make up for the negative effects on students’ learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Field. 

Field said not all parents were able to be involved in their children’s learning at home during the pandemic. Educational gaps developed among students over the past two years. 

“I think right now everyone is concerned about, you know, what are those gaps in literacy? What are those gaps in math?” she said. 

“We all know that reading is so very important, and if we don’t intervene at the younger ages … even for the older kids or the new immigrants and people like that coming in or refugees, then we really are doing a disservice to the students.”

Bolger agrees that funds raised through Loonies for Literacy will help get students back on track after learning disruptions caused by the pandemic. 

“We’re just trying to meet all students’ needs across the entire board,” Bolger said. 

Field and Bolger said they hope Loonies for Literacy becomes an annual fundraising event for CBE schools. 

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