BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On May 14, Bellows Falls Central School alumna Ella Cademartori brought a reading program called Free to Read Every Day to the fourth grade at the school. It is a program her aunt created and ran for about 20 years in Arizona. The program provides students with a bag of seven free books, a book a day for a week.
Cademartori says she was a little apprehensive of their response “with so much technology these days.” She appeared in Ms. Kamel’s fourth grade classroom with 233 donated books packed in 33 bags that had been decorated by student volunteers at Vermont Academy, another school of which Cademartori is an alumna. She gave out the books and found the “kids seemed responsive.”
She says they were really happy they could keep the books, and just like on baseball trading card day they were soon trading books, one wanting biographies, another graphic novels. Cademartori says she picked the fourth grade as the students are at a good age where they know what they like.
Cademartori herself is passionate about reading. Growing up in Bellows Falls, she volunteered at the Rockingham Free Public Library and knows well longtime children’s librarian Sam Maskell. Cademartori now lives in Antrim, N.H. and has recently started working at libraries in Dublin and Fitzwilliam, N.H. She has a versatile academic resume, having a degree in art history and anthropology and a graduate degree in media.
Cademartori says her great aunt, Glenna Phelps, inspired her to replicate the program in her old hometown. Phelps, who taught kindergarten through sixth grade, came up with the book a day for a week program from a desire to help lower income children in her district. Phelps was able to get all the books donated from various sources, expanding the program to give away around 30,000 books one year in at least 20 years of the program. Cademartori contacted Phelps’ son Craig who sent her detailed information on the program and its history as well as granting permission for her to replicate it here. The history included records of events where children would trade books and also dress up as characters they had read about.
Being furloughed from a cooking job due to the pandemic, Cademartori began working on her project in earnest. She says she started looking around and found the Bellows Falls Rotary willing to be her fiscal agent. She then used a GoFundMe page to finance book purchases and received other books donated from family and friends. Based on the success of the program at Central School this year, Cademartori plans to do it again with the fourth grade at Central School next spring and add the fourth grade at Saxtons River School next fall. With that, she will carry on the literacy promotion legacy of her great aunt Glenna here on the East Coast.