The feel, the sound of cracking open a new book

A photo of Payton Cooper, alumna and fourth grade teacher at Alpine Elementary School.
Payton Cooper, '18, reads to her fourth grade class at Alpine Elementary School. Cooper received 140 new books through the GVSU Michigan Literacy Project.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills
A photo of alumna Payton Cooper reads to her fourth grade class.
Payton Cooper, '18, reads to her fourth grade class at Alpine Elementary School. Cooper received 140 new books through the GVSU Michigan Literacy Project.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills
A student listens as the teacher reads.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills
Alumna Payton Cooper reading to class.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills
Photo of book collection in the classroom.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills
Alumna Payton Coopers reading to her fourth grade students.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

"Can you imagine what it's like to not be able to see anymore?" Miss Cooper asked her fourth grade students.

"No," many replied.

Students in Payton Cooper's fourth grade class at Alpine Elementary School in Comstock Park were captivated during story time as they listened to Miss Cooper read Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille.

Cooper, '18, began teaching in the Kenowa Hills Public School District in the fall. She recently received 140 new books through a grant from the GVSU College of Education Michigan Literacy Project (MLP) to create a library in her classroom. 

"It means so much to my students to have a new book to read in class or at home," said Cooper. "I have some wonderful used and worn books, but it's not often my students have a brand-new book to read."

MLP provides libraries to recent Grand Valley graduates who have been teaching three or fewer years in elementary (PreK-6) classrooms in underserved public school districts and GVSU charter schools statewide. Preference is given to elementary classrooms with literacy instruction.

Cooper is one of 18 new teachers who recently had the opportunity to shop for $1,000 worth of books to establish a library in their classroom. The teachers received a $500 voucher to use at a buy-one-get-one sale at the Scholastic Warehouse in Caledonia. 

Cooper had her students make a wish list of books before the shopping spree. She said she was able to add diverse books to her library, including graphic novels and memoir books.

"It was like a Costco of books!" said Cooper. "At first, it was overwhelming taking my shopping cart from aisle to aisle. But, I feel so blessed and touched by those who support the project and the purpose of the project — to help kids foster a love for reading." 

MLP was co-founded in 2014 by College of Education faculty members Megan Freudigmann and Sheryl Vlietstra. 

"We recognize the importance of the availability of quality, children's literature in each classroom, yet it often takes new teachers several years of personal spending to develop a functional classroom library," Freudigmann said.

Vlietstra said Grand Valley College of Education alumni know what research shows about connecting literacy to success, and how reading helps children develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

"Students may not have access to books in their homes or have a way to get to the local library, so their classroom should be equipped with books that can take them around the world and back," Vlietstra said.

This year's MLP grant recipients were from Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kenowa Hills Public Schools, Shelby Public Schools, Kent City Community Schools, Orchard View Public Schools, Wayland Union Public Schools, Coopersville Area Public Schools, West Ottawa Public Schools, Holland Public Schools, Roscommon Area Public Schools, Flint Cultural Center Academy and Detroit University Prep Academy.

MLP is funded through private donors, faculty contributions and ongoing support from GVSU's College of Education and Charter Schools Office.

For more information, visit or contact Sheryl Vlietstra at (616) 331-6271.