Young lawyers provide bilingual books for kids

FELLSMERE — When members of the Young Lawyers Division of the Indian River County Bar Association learned last fall that area schools had a desperate need for bilingual children’s books, they sprang into action.

In January, division co-chairs Doug Vitunac and Jeff Pegler were among dozens of affiliates from around the state who presented grant proposals at the Florida Bar’s Affiliate Outreach Conference in Tampa.

Vitunac and Pegler received one of only two awards for excellence and were given a grant of $3,250 from the Florida Bar Foundation for the project — to purchase bilingual Spanish/English children’s books for distribution to Fellsmere Elementary School, the 41st Street Head Start and Dodgertown Elementary School.

“It’s important for the kids to be able to read with their parents,” said Vitunac. “It’s difficult for Spanish speaking parents when the books are just in English.”

Each sentence in a bilingual book is written in both languages, which may ultimately serve a dual purpose, by also helping the parents to learn how to read and speak in English.

Young Lawyers’ members recently began distributing the books to the schools, which each have a high population of students from Spanish speaking households. Fellsmere Elementary was the first stop, with Cynthia VanDeVoorde Hall, Caitlin Rissman and Vitunac reading to the children at two “Books and Tea Parties” in the school’s library.

In addition to a selection of books which will be added to their library, approximately 100 students, who had the highest independent reading scores in the Scholastic Reading Program, were each given books to take home.

Vitunac said that they wanted to purchase the majority of the books before summer vacation so that children can check the books out for their summer reading assignments. Pegler, who is also running for School Board, is organizing an upcoming Dodgertown Elementary distribution.

Shannon Pope, a teacher at the 41st Street Head Start had initially identified the need for the bilingual books to Vitunac and was the impetus behind the project. Vitunac was joined by attorneys Elizabeth McHugh and Rissman for the second distribution – Reading Day at Head Start, where books will be added to a lending library.

The Head Start program is run by the Economic Opportunity Council of Indian River County and provides early education to children ages three to five years old, from economically disadvantaged families.

“All our Head Start centers are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and all have received a Gold Seal from the Department of Children and Families,” said Leonard Edwards, Head Start Director. “Our students did very well with the Florida school readiness standards; all exceeded the cutoff.”

The air of excitement was palpable, as children oohed and aahed over all the colorful and exciting books, but they quickly settled down and with rapt attention, listened as the attorneys read aloud from a couple of their favorite selections.

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