Thanks to a small but meaningful grant, an Olentangy elementary school library now has books that better reflect its students' diverse backgrounds.

At Oak Creek Elementary School, about 60 of the school's 660 students are in the school's English Language Learners program. Languages represented include Mandarin, Spanish, Cantonese, Arabic, Japanese, Nepali, Portuguese, Vietnamese and multiple Indian dialects.

"The school as a whole is even more diverse," ELL teacher Mary Ann Dunn said. "There are even other languages, but some of those students don't need to study English because they're already fluent."

Despite the diversity, students can't always find reading materials in Oak Creek's library that apply to them, especially among illustrated works.

With that in mind, Dunn and her ELL partner, Elizabeth Salazar, wrote a grant request and set out to find material that better represents their students.

They entered a grant contest with Delaware's Tanger Outlets but were unsuccessful. But when they tried again with the Olentangy Education Foundation earlier this year, they were rewarded with a $900 grant to buy books that promote diversity for the school's library.

While a few hundred dollars may not seem like much, Dunn said she and Salazar were thrilled, and the duo bought about 80 illustrated books with the funds that can be used by teachers throughout the building.

"I think it gives teachers and students both a look into how other cultures view things, how it feels to be a new student in a building, especially if it's your first day of school and it's a completely different culture," Dunn said. "It's such a beautiful way of communicating. The books we chose are high-quality and the illustrations really reflect what students look like."

Krista Davis, director of communications for the district, said Olentangy Local Schools places a high value on embracing the diversity within its buildings.

"As our district population becomes more diverse, it's important that we create opportunities for students to see reflections of themselves, and for all students to learn and appreciate the value of diversity," she said.

"We are so thankful that through this grant from the Olentangy Education Foundation, we can continue to develop and nurture a districtwide culture that values diversity -- not just through our words, but through our actions."

In practice, Dunn said she's been thrilled with how students -- especially her ELL students -- have responded to the new materials.

"To open a book and see a student who looks like you -- when most books aren't that way -- is really special," she said. "I think it makes our students feel included."

As for the rest of the student body, seeing the diversity in their texts can be an important part of the process of learning about equality and diversity itself.

"It's a real growth experience for them; they come to see it as normal," Dunn said. "They're very interested to see how a school might look in another country or the travails that students have come through to get to this country. I think they find it fascinating, and there's a lot more empathy, I believe."

Ultimately, $900 can only go so far.

But Dunn said she's been sharing her grant request and lesson plans throughout the district, adding she hopes one day to see each Olentangy school full of diverse literature.

"We would love that," she said.

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