Congratulations to the CLEL Award Winners!

Every year at our annual conference, CLEL recognizes three early literacy superstars, and this year’s nominations were really amazing! The winners were recognized at our conference, and each winner has received a plaque as well as free CLELCON admission. We wanted to further recognize them by giving readers a glimpse of the great work they’ve done.

CLEL Corporate Award Winner: LENA. This award is for outstanding commitment to the promotion of early literacy throughout the state of Colorado and consistent support of Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy. Lena’s nominator says of this innovative company, “LENA, a nonprofit based in Boulder that provides its services internationally, was founded in 2004 to provide programs for parents and early childhood educators that couple technology with actionable feedback and coaching to make proven, sustainable improvements to children's language environments. Their research-based approach to serve and return interactions with young children has lent authority to this concept in the field of early childhood education. LENA extensively works with partners such as Head Start programs, public health initiatives, and yes, public libraries, to provide programs based on their research for caregivers at the local level.

In Colorado, LENA currently partners with the Pikes Peak Library District and Denver Public Library to provide programs for caregivers. Pedro Mendez details DPL's positive experience with LENA in this article and webinar: Being culturally responsive to families during LENA Start classes and beyond. These programs strongly advance caregivers' understanding of the importance of talking and serve and return interactions in a library setting; they also provide deep community and family connections that last after the programs are finished.”

CLEL Hero Award Winner: Betsy Brainerd. This award is a career achievement award for outstanding generosity to the Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy and/or the support of early literacy in the state of Colorado. Betsy had multiple nominators and so many wonderful things to say. Here’s what one of them wrote.

“First, Betsy has coordinated and grown the Family Place Libraries initiative to make it a mainstay for our libraries. Bringing in community early childhood experts, holding popular parent-child workshops, cultivating early literacy outreach opportunities, designing early learning spaces, training staff and providing oversight for parenting collections and early childhood resources are just a few of the ways Betsy has brought early literacy and Family Place to life for library communities.

Betsy was able to pivot and find ways to provide access and continue services very effectively during the Pandemic, as well. Since we were not able to hold in-person events, Betsy led the charge to create and offer Play and Learn at Home Activity kits by mail, throughout Colorado, for over a year. The kits contain a diverse children's book, a literacy learning toy, parent information and practical early learning tips. The effort has been extraordinarily popular and will be continued. In addition, wonderful parenting presentations have gone virtual and will continue each month, thanks to Betsy's leadership and coordination,

Finally, Begin with Books is a volunteer-led home daycare read-aloud program that has been operating successfully since 1998. Betsy has coordinated the program with superb leadership and care for years. Well-trained volunteers are matched with home daycare sites and are given robust storytime kits and child book bags to use and leave with providers each month. Betsy has recruited and trained volunteers, maintained strong relationships and managed all aspects of this popular initiative with heart and great skill. Although continuing with the program in any format was unlikely in 2020-2021, Betsy has rallied to keep strong connections with the volunteers and daycare sites and keep the program going. She has provided support to offer some safe, outdoor and virtual storytimes and has made sure that the book bags, filled with quality, popular and diverse children's books, are still delivered to children at participating Begin with Books homes.”

CLEL Rising Star Award Winner: Julia Makowski. This award will go to an individual who has demonstrated exceptional work in early literacy. This person may be newer to the field and a rising star who inspires others to do outstanding early literacy work. Julia’s nominator sung her praises, saying “Julia Makowski from Buena Vista Public Library demonstrates an incredible commitment to community-building and early literacy learning for all caregivers of young children in her community which is why I am nominating her for the 2021 CLEL Rising Star Award. Julia comes to libraries after many years working for Outward Bound and brings with her a deep sense of community and adventure to her work with Buena Vista’s families and early childhood caregivers.

When Julia joined the library staff, she immediately recognized her rural community’s need for increased connection and support among both parents and informal caregivers of young children. With informal care rising in her area during the COVID-19 pandemic, Julia recognized that caregivers like grandparents, aunts & uncles, neighbors, and friends helping to care for Buena Vista’s youngest children needed more information and connection to help them support young children’s learning. Julia saw this gap and jumped in to think creatively about how the library could help these caregivers and parents. She reached out to the State Library for help planning and designing an engaging hands-on series of early literacy & learning trainings for caregivers of young children. She invested time and effort in outreach to invite parents and caregivers she saw in the community, as well as, at the library. In March 2021, she hosted a three-week synchronous virtual early literacy training for fifteen caregivers and parents, including grandparents, aunts, foster parents, friends, and neighbors providing care for young children. The highly interactive workshop series not only gave participants fresh skills and ideas to boost early literacy development for the children in their care, but also laid the foundation for a local community of practice for caregivers and parents of young children. Julia has also made herself available to early literacy staff at other libraries across Colorado who are interested in exploring online caregiver training programs, sharing her enthusiasm and expertise freely.

Julia also developed consumable early learning kits for early literacy skill development and included early learning materials and activities across Colorado’s early learning and development domains to encourage early literacy, early cognitive skills, social-emotional learning, and both fine and grow motor skills; supporting whole child development in her community. Always iterating on her previous successes with early literacy programs and caregiver community building, this fall, she is planning to facilitate a Wiggles & Giggles early learning playgroup, plus Play, Learn, & Grow early literacy workshops for young children and their caregivers, and another caregiver skill & community-building workshop. She is also converting BVPL’s popular Take & Make kits into Make & Take drop-in sessions that support early literacy through STEM activities.

Julia’s enthusiastic commitment to supporting early literacy development and caregiver community-building at Buena Vista Public Library truly makes her a Rising Star in Colorado’s early literacy library community!”

We’re so proud of all of these early literacy professionals and so grateful for all of the generous nominations this year! Make sure to watch out for our call for nominations for next year, til’ then, happy reading!

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