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Here’s How a Teacher From Wauwatosa Got Each of Her Homeroom Students a New Book Every Month of the School Year

This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on September 3, 2019.

 

Wauwatosa resident Meghan Borgwardt made it her personal goal to provide Scholastic reading books for her entire homeroom classroom last school year.

The Rocketship Southside Community Prep teacher raised enough money to purchase a book a month for each student. This summer she has done the same for her incoming students for the 2019-20 school year.

Borgwardt turned to Facebook to ask her friends and family to participate in sponsoring one of her 30 students. For $9, anyone could sponsor a child in her classroom to ensure they have new books to read for the entire school year. Her Facebook post reads:

“How cool would it be for each student to receive one free book every month at no cost to his/her family? Monthly, Scholastic has books that are $1. I would LOVE for each of my students to be able to bring home one new book each month. That’s only $9 per child (for a FULL school year)! Would anyone be interested in ‘sponsoring’ a child in my classroom?”

Many of the families with children at the K4-5 elementary school cannot afford to purchase new books each month for their child, she said. This becomes even more difficult when they have more than one child in school. When Borgwardt saw this need among her first-grade students, she took matters into her own hands and decided to provide the books herself, with the help of her community.

“First grade is a very transitional period when it comes to reading and language,” said Borgwardt. “It’s really important for them to be able to practice their reading skills here in homeroom during morning breakfast and at home with their family.”

Each student receives a Velcro binder called a “book buddy” where they can store all of their books. At the end of the year, their binders will be filled with all nine books that they can read at any time.

Borgwardt said the books make a difference. Some of her students, who only spoke Spanish and who had a hard time reading English at the beginning of the year, were reading chapters with ease by June.

“They’re so happy to have those books; all my kids had heavy book buddies with all nine books in there. They were all bent, ripped and had food all over. It was great; I loved seeing that they were using them,” said Borgwardt. “I see the change in them as the year goes on.”

Borgwardt was inspired by other teachers whom she has also seen provide books to their students through Scholastic’s dollar book promotion. After she had success with it herself, other teachers at her school are also doing the same for their classrooms.

Aside from reading during homeroom hour, Borgwardt also teaches her students social and emotional lessons that integrate the school’s core values: respect, responsibility, empathy, persistence and effort. Each week, the group focuses on a new value that should be practiced as the year goes on.

Destined to teach

Originally from Janesville, Borgwardt has always had a desire to help others and has known that teaching was the career for her, even at a young age.

“I feel like since I was 4 I was teaching to something, even if it was inanimate objects like stuffed animals,” said Borgwardt. “But having teachers that were amazing is where I thought ‘wow, I want to do this for other kids too.'”

Throughout her schooling and career she remembered her eighth-grade teacher, Ashley Hughes, particularly her kindness. Those memories led her to strive for the same level of care for her own students.

“Ashley is exactly the teacher that I want to be. She inspires me to do things in regard to kindness and inclusion and other things like that in my own life and classroom,” said Borgwardt.

Her former teacher described Borgwardt as being quiet, but always volunteering to help. She would often take the lead in groups and had a knack for helping others in the classroom, said Hughes. Both now consider each other a close friend and continue to learn from one another.

Borgwardt graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in Spanish K-12 education with licenses in bilingual teaching and English as a second language.

Although this is only her second year as a teacher at Rocketship Southside Community Prep, Borgwardt has been connected with the school since 2015. She began working there through a YMCA after-school program as an operations team member in the school office.

But when the principal saw that Borgwardt was an education major who wanted to dedicate her life to teaching, Borgwardt started leading reading groups. She stayed there through college and when she graduated she was hired after getting her charter license to teach there.

“The fact that she can be in a classroom and positively influencing so many students it just makes my heart really happy,” said Hughes. “I see the change that the students make in her just as much as I know she makes a change in them. She already had such a big heart, but I can see it growing as she’s around the student more.”

Long-term commitment

Borgwardt plans to stay at Rocketship Southside Community Prep for as long as possible and hopes to eventually have a leadership role there where she can continue promoting the importance of community.

The school is highly focused on parent-teacher communication, which is why teachers do home visits before the start of the school year. Borgwardt would like to put an even bigger emphasis on this type of communication for her students with parents who primarily or only speak Spanish.

These parents usually tend to have a difficult time when their child comes home with information in English and an even harder time helping them with homework.

“Me being able to speak Spanish, I want to do a better job in having those important materials for them,” said Borgwardt.

She does this by translating handouts and providing them to parents. She also has a classroom newsletter that is in both English and Spanish since about 95% of her students’ parents primarily speak Spanish at home.

The school’s principal has changed some things to make sure these families are included, such as having more Spanish-led meetings and providing help to students who struggle during standardized testing and having a translator during conferences.

“I’m hoping to hold English classes for parents at our school who only speak Spanish or need more help,” said Borgwardt. “I know they would really appreciate that, and I plan to keep up the community engagement to continue building a school that parents feel welcomed in.”

This year, aside from her homeroom, Borgwardt will teach math to 120 students. One of her goals is to be able to provide books for all 120 students.

Published on September 5, 2019

Read more stories about: Teacher Experience.