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Berne-Knox-Westerlo book project

Citizens of the Month: Two retired Albany County educators bring books to life

Posted February 17, 2017 by Liza Frenette

Pictured, L-R: Albany County Executive Dan McCoy (holding student); Berne-Knox-Westerlo Teachers Association President Robert Bentley; and B-K-W TA members Judy Tambasco and Roz Moser, who launched the “1,000 Book Child” project 20 years ago. It's still going strong. Photo by Liza Frenette.

If you are looking for just two good reasons to love public schools, then head to the hills. In the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Elementary School, located in what is regionally called “the hill towns” in Albany County, you can meet up with Judy Tambasco and Roz Moser every Wednesday. For the past 20 years, they’ve shown up at the end of the hall in two small nooks to sort books and index cards in order to provide young students with a bag of stories to take home.

This week, the two veteran educators were honored by the county as February Citizens of the Month for 20 years worth of steady volunteer work getting books into the hands of young children. Tambasco retired last year from teaching; Moser retired 20 years ago as a school nurse. They started “1,000 Book Child” with the glorious goal of inspiring children to love books.

While some of the fledging readers are not too sure about words, Tambasco explained, “It happens all the time…kids becoming excited readers.”

Board books, picture books and early reader books open up the young students’ hearts and minds with illustrations and stories. Children sometimes hold a finger underneath each word, as if pinning down a butterfly, as they sound out words. Sometimes parents read to them, while the youngsters turn the pages.

Words open worlds.

“Teachers do set the trail for us,” said Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, who presented the educators with the award. He acknowledged the pair for inspiring “generations going forward.

“You two will never know the effect you’ve had on children,” he said, standing in front of a roomful of rapt students sitting on a carpet. “There’s something about books. It’s different than having electronics in your hand…Reading is fun. It makes you think about different things.”

More than 100 students have finished all 1,000 books, Tambasco said. And hundreds more have learned to carry home that precious blue fabric tote bag every week filled with 10 books. The next week, they swap it out for 10 more. And so it goes.

Kids who reach the 1,000-book pinnacle are presented with a sweatshirt. The family of former B-K-W school librarian Eileen Hitter, who died from cancer, donates the clothing.

Tambasco said the pair started with 100 bags, using money from a Title I grant, but “we ran out almost immediately. Now we have 2,000 books and 200 bags.”
While grateful to be honored, she said “All the hard work is done by students and their families.”

Many districts subscribe to the 1,000 Book programs, which have a goal of getting children to read or hear 1,000 books by kindergarten or first grade.

In B-K-W, Tambasco said about 40 kids come and exchange the book bags every week. The original bags have survived two decades of hauling back and forth, though the pair sometimes takes them home to launder them.

Although the town has a library, right across from the school, Tambasco said families cannot always get there to check out books in this geographically widespread district.

Robert Bentley, U.S. History and Government and AP History teacher, is the local president for the B-K-W Teachers Association, and wise to the joy and knowledge that books can bring to readers.

For the past two years, he has worked with NYSUT and First Book Inc. to secure 400 books to donate to the holiday party at the hill towns for families in need. These are new books that families can keep. This week, he shared in the excitement for his colleagues’ work with words.

For Moser, bagging books was a switch from her role as school nurse. She said after two years of retirement, she showed up back at the school, announcing, “I’m ready to volunteer.”

This week’s ceremony also honored little curly haired Natalie, who at four years old just became a 1,000 Book Child. She was presented with a sweatshirt.

Christopher Smith, county legislator, and a former student at the school, was on hand for the ceremony, as were Bruce Hidley, Albany County clerk; Tim Mundell, superintendent; and Annette Landry, elementary principal.

Tambasco and Moser beamed as Natalie received her award.

And Wednesday after Wednesday, they will find new students to inspire.

“I look forward to Wednesdays,” Moser said with a smile.

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