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Ward Melville Teacher Earns $10K Literacy Award

Dr. Elizabeth Kelso, a Ward Melville High School English teacher, was named the first-place grant winner in the national 2013 Penguin Random House Teacher Award for Literacy competition. The $10,000 award was bestowed upon Dr. Kelso in support of her Living Book Project, which was determined by Random House to be the most innovative and original project with the greatest impact on readers and the community.
“In this time of new standards and specific learning structures and processes, Random House’s support of The Living Book Project reiterates a shared value and belief that we want children to come together in their learning in the most basic and human ways, around story, experience and thoughtful dialogue,” said Dr. Kelso.
Dr. Kelso was presented with the award by Tony Danza this November during the National Conference of Teachers of English in Boston. In addition to the application work completed by Dr. Kelso, Ward Melville High School seniors Sylvia Chen and Grace Molino supported the writing of the grant by submitting letters in support of the program. 
Last year’s Living Book Project brought together 240 students from several diverse Long Island high schools for a daylong conference founded in literacy and rich in educational benefits. The project was an interdisciplinary experience that brought high school students together to learn, share ideas and collectively reflect on Rebecca Skloot’s New York Times bestseller “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”
Ms. Lacks’ story began more than 60 years ago when her cancer cells were harvested without her knowledge; these cells, now known as HeLa cells, have become one of the most important tools in modern medicine, vital for genome research and progress in the fields of in vitro fertilization, cloning and vaccine development. The book challenged readers to broaden their thinking on subjects such as bioethics, literacy, history, sociology, race and social class in America, cultural diversity, ethics and patients’ rights. Each attendee was provided with a copy of the book prior to the event and asked to complete it by the date of the program. During the event, the themes found within the book were depicted theatrically and visually and were discussed at length during interactive dialogues between attendees.
A similar event, centered on the graphic novel “The Complete Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi, is planned for this spring. Students in Dr. Kelso’s 11th-grade AP English Language and Composition classes (now high school seniors) did the research and groundwork for the 2014 program by reading “Persepolis,” researching Stony Brook University and community resources, and writing up workshop proposals. Their work was instrumental in building the second Living Book Project.

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