The New Albany-Plain Local school board on Dec. 10 accepted $55,000 in donations for the New Albany Scholars visiting author program and for the installation of new starting blocks at the high school natatorium.
The New Albany Community Foundation will fund the author visits to all four district school buildings with $20,000 from the Lance and Carolyn White Fund.
"I think we saw the impact of this four to five years ago when we first brought author Gordon Korman to the elementary school," said Craig Mohre, president of the New Albany Community Foundation. "The students learned about the creative process and I think it encouraged them to read more."
Mohre said the author visits derived from an idea shared by the White family, who wanted to support an educational initiative districtwide. Local parent-teacher organizations and the New Albany Women's Network help support the initiative.
As part of this year's program, four $500 scholarships will be given out to one student from each district building.
Lance White said students will be asked to create a two- to three-minute video about the author's visit two weeks before the author arrives.
The school building's principal, librarian and teachers will grade the videos, and the student who created the best video will receive the scholarship. It will be in the form of an Ohio 529 College Savings Plan.
"It gives the child some funds for education and another benefit is that it kind of teaches them a little bit about investments," White said.
Each building currently is planning for the author visits.
The high school will host Columbus resident Steven Ryuse, who wrote I Didn't Know I Was Black: Growing up Black in the White World of Tennis. Ryuse is a tennis professional at the Worthington Hills Country Club.
High school Principal Ric Stranges said Ryuse will be at the school the week of Feb. 11 and will speak to the entire student body during an assembly for Black History month. He also will meet with smaller groups throughout the week.
"It's an opportunity to bring this to life, an opportunity benefitting all students," Stranges said.
He said hosting Ryuse for a weeklong residency provides greater opportunities for the students to interact with him.
New Albany Middle School students and the fourth- and fifth-graders from the 2-5 elementary building will have the same visiting author this year.
Margaret Peterson Haddix will visit New Albany fourth-graders Jan. 17 and 18 and New Albany Middle School sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders Feb. 12 and 13.
"She's one of the most popular young adult authors today," said Brooke Shackelford, middle school library media specialist.
Haddix is a Washington Court House native known for several series of books, including the Shadow Children series and The Missing series. In the Shadow Children series, Haddix created a world in which families with more than two children must have their third child become a "shadow," not able to leave the house or be seen by others.
Shackelford said Haddix will conduct a presentation for each grade at the middle school and also meet with smaller reading and writing groups, such as the middle school book club and Power of the Pen competitors. Power of the Pen is an Ohio interscholastic competition that challenges students to write a story from a prompt.
Eighth-grade book club members discussed Haddix's visit Dec. 13 and decided to read one of her books in January so they can ask questions during her visit.
The middle school book club includes nearly 40 students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Students in the same grade meet once monthly.
"It's a great way to learn about new books and talk about them with friends," said eighth-grader Madeleine Handwork.
Mohre said author visits can inspire children, and middle school book club member Jessica von Zastrow is one of those children. Von Zastrow, an eighth-grader, said she learned that she wanted to become an author after hearing Korman speak at the school last year.
The K-1 building and the 2-5 building's second- and third-graders will host writer and illustrator Jim Arnosky in May.
Arnosky has written and illustrated 86 books on nature.
Kirsten Klink, the K-1 librarian, said she and Kerry Cramer, the 2-5 librarian, heard Arnosky speak at a conference and his work in natural sciences coincides with the district's environmental education focus, which includes teaching and learning on the district's 80-acre nature preserve.
"He's very much a nature activist who also is an animal lover," Klink said. "His books focus on educating people about the outdoors."
The other donation the school board accepted Dec. 10 came from three local families, who provided $35,000 to install five starting blocks at the high school pool. Donors were Keith and Cindy Berend, Jay and Marlene Gundlach and Joel and Tina Gundlach.
Swim team coach Dave Wharton said the natatorium had worn and outdated starting blocks when the Berends gave $20,000 to help build new ones.
The contribution prompted Jay Gundlach and Joel Gundlach to design new starting blocks, which, Wharton said, have successfully "raised the level of our facility."