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A happy birthday for Peabody students

Peabody Superintendent of Schools Dr. Josh Vadala reads Margie Palatini's "Mooseltoe" to a fourth-grade class at the Brown School last week. (Courtesy photo)

PEABODY — The Peabody Education Foundation grants program (PEF) and the JB Thomas/Lahey Foundation are partnering on a program that is sure to make elementary-school students feel a little more special this year.

Birthday Books, a $15,000 initiative which will provide 3,000 Peabody students in grades K-5 with a new, age-appropriate book on their birthday, as part of an effort to foster literacy and boost students’ love of reading. 

PEF Executive Board Chair Dave Gravel said the project is in line with the foundation’s shift to focusing on district-wide initiatives.

“We used to do classroom-based grants, but with COVID we realized that we needed to do district-wide activities,” he said. “The Birthday Book concept was originally a classroom-based program at the Welch School. Three other schools were asking to participate so we went to the superintendent (Dr. Josh Vadala) and asked if it would be appropriate for the entire district, so that’s how the program evolved.”

Vadala highlighted the importance of promoting literacy while, at the same time, making every student feel special on his or her birthday.

“A huge thanks to the Peabody Education Foundation and the JB Thomas/Lahey Foundation for making this possible,” said Vadala. “Having worked in an elementary school, I can tell you firsthand that helping kids to feel special on their birthday means so much more than you could ever imagine.”

Books will be distributed by each school to its own students and each student will also receive a “Happy Birthday” sticker. 

“Right now we are still waiting on some of the birthday books because Scholastic was back-ordered,” Vadala said. 

The program is set to begin in January after the holiday break. 

“It’s just a great thing for the kids,” PEF Executive Board Vice-Chair Tom Gould said. “To be able to be acknowledged by your classmates on your birthday is really special, and knowing that every elementary-school student will be a part of this is very rewarding.”

Vadala acknowledged the fact that the experience of celebrating a birthday can vary from student to student. 

Our city is extremely diverse, and we know that many students have extremely different experiences on their birthdays,” he said. “This grant program will make every elementary student in the Peabody Public Schools feel special and important on their birthday and it will help promote literacy skills.

“I cannot thank you all enough for bringing this incredible gift to our students.”PEF provides unique programs and advanced technology to thousands of students every year who might otherwise not enjoy such experiences due to financial and budgetary constraints. One hundred percent of all donations raised by PEF go directly to Peabody students and teachers.

Gould said that PEF’s efforts to fund meaningful programs like Birthday Books and other programs designed to enhance learning have really “taken off” in recent years.

“We made a concerted effort about eight years ago to become a foundation that can accept 501(c)(3) donations, and it’s just exploded with interest, which is especially important during times like these when resources may be limited,” he said. “That’s why a program like Birthday Books is important, as it gives a personalized and happy birthday experience to these kids.”

PEF Honorary Chair Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. agreed.

“I was so excited to learn about this new program,” he said. “The foundation continues to do such wonderful things that touch so many children in our schools and their families in Peabody.”

Anne Marie Tobin can be reached at atobin@itemlive.com.

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