Susan Conrad discovered her gift for teaching at the local ice rink during her teenage years. “I was a figure skater growing up, and I worked at the ice rink, she says. Teaching ice skating was one of her favorite responsibilities, and she enjoyed working with the small skaters. Her path became clear: “From there, I decided to go into education, and here I am.” Her passion for figure skating translated to the classroom, and she’s been providing young students with a balanced education ever since.
Conrad praises the free resources provided by The Cleveland Schools Book Fund as a supporting component to early childhood literacy. She has a longstanding history with the book fund and remembers the program’s early stages of development. That shared history began when Pat Barto, a retired Cleveland Metropolitan School District principal, invited Conrad to attend Cleveland State University’s Early Childhood Network meetings.
“I got involved with Sharon Brown [Director of The Cleveland School Book Fund] and became a part of this community of educators,” she explains. For a year, Conrad also enjoyed being a member of the program’s planning committee.
Conrad appreciates how the Cleveland Schools Book Fund curates lists of high-quality books that teachers can work with for their particular grade. Book titles are intentionally selected to address the social and emotional well-being of young readers. With 26 years of experience teaching preschool and kindergarten, Conrad fully understands how exposure to quality literature can impact a young child, something that has become increasingly relevant now that COVID-19 restrictions have physically separated teachers and students. “You can’t do anything with students before meeting their social and emotional needs. They’re not going to care about learning math or reading if we can’t address some of the basic issues in their lives.”
Included in the book list for kindergarteners, for example, is Circle of Friends by Giora Carmi. This picture book tells a meaningful story about homelessness and kindness to others. Teachers can then develop a lesson plan, using the tools and videos on The Cleveland Schools Book Fund website to generate a discussion about helping others.
Conrad teaches for a Montessori school and often refers parents to The Cleveland Schools Book Fund website for resources to foster a love for reading in their homes. The website is rich with information on parent and student engagement through interactive activities. Pre-COVID 19, Conrad also frequently invited parents to come to school and read their child’s favorite book to the classroom, an activity that she believes creates positive memories around reading.
Another of Conrad’s favorite literacy-based activities was a theatrical production of Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. Theater students from Cleveland State University performed the stage play, enthralling her young students.
Conrad expresses a deep appreciation for “Dr. Brown and [the volunteers] who help by thinking about us and bending over backwards to provide these opportunities.” Like her young ice skaters from long ago, she knows that emerging readers will reach new heights with practice and the kind of well-choreographed routines she creates with the support and resources provided by The Cleveland Schools Book Fund.