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Librarian takes literacy extra mile

May 29, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

BOONSBORO - Naomi Butler may be retired, but her time is booked.

The former state employee turned part-time travel agent and training/advocacy coordinator for Western Maryland Public Libraries will embark on her fourth trip to New Zealand in July as coordinator of Educators Literacy Corps - a group the Boonsboro native founded in 1996.

Butler is busy. She likes it that way.

"I've always worked," she said. "Everything I've done has been very interesting."

Butler's background in library science sparked an eternal flame for books and literacy promotion that's blazed a path through many of her professional endeavors.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in English and history from Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., Butler earned a master's degree in library science from the University of North Carolina, she said.

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An advanced graduate specialist, Butler has worked toward a doctoral degree in education at the University of Maryland. She has only to complete her dissertation before earning her Ph.D.

Butler, who has traveled to six foreign countries, has been a children's book reviewer for 30 years.

She helps with the adult literacy tutoring program, has developed special programs for young readers, and has served on the Partners in Literacy subcommittee at the Washington County Free Library, she said.

She facilitates the Children's Reading Circle at the Frederick County Free Library.

Among other duties, she worked with the Maryland Student Literacy Corps and conducted school tours for foreign visitors during her tenure at the state Department of Education, she said.

A 1993 visit from the Junior Class Learning (JCL) group of New Zealand spawned Butler's interest in "global education," she said.

New Zealand's federally regulated education system boasts a 99 percent literacy rate and 100 percent student attendance rate, according to the U.S. State Department Web site.

All of the South Pacific country's teachers are trained to teach the in-school Reading Recovery and Balanced Language programs - child-centered, practical approaches to reading and writing, Butler said.

Young students deemed at risk for literacy problems receive one-on-one teacher instruction daily for as long as needed to improve reading and writing skills.

Student artwork abounds in classrooms to boost self-esteem, and young readers and writers are in constant contact with both written and spoken language, Butler said.

The New Zealand government funds and oversees the programs. Parents cooperate with teachers, whom students seem to hold in high respect, Butler added.

"They all work together," she said. "Everybody's accountable, so it has to be successful."

At least two Maryland county school systems have sent teachers to training classes at the University of Ohio and are using the New Zealand programs in their "pure" form, Butler said.

Some other state schools use adaptations of the programs, she added.

Butler took her first group of teachers to Aukland, New Zealand, in 1994, after forging a working relationship with the country's JCL and Taranaki Ecological Experience groups.

The JCL group places educators in classrooms and arranges home-stays for the two to three week trips. The ecological group coordinates nature experiences and home-stays, according to the Educators Literacy Corps Web site at http://oasis.fortunecity.com/angkor/258/.

Butler decided to integrate her love of education, literacy promotion and travel after retiring from her state job in 1996. She founded Educators Literacy Corps, and attended Richards Travel Career Institute in Hagerstown.

She graduated in 1997.

Thus far, Butler has organized the experience for about 40 U.S. educators, many of whom are surprised by the community spirit and lack of discipline problems in New Zealand schools, she said.

Teacher-travelers can often get in-service credit from their school systems for taking the New Zealand tour, said Butler, who asks many of these educators to spread the word to their peers through presentations.

"I believe in Reading Recovery and the Balanced Language program," she said. "The model could be used everywhere."

Butler said she relishes planning and conducting group trips such as the annual New Zealand excursion through her work as a sales consultant at Antietam Travel Service Inc. in Frederick, Md.

She hopes to start an educators exchange program with Israel similar to the partnership between Educators Literacy Corps and the JCL group in New Zealand.

Israelis are "very serious about education," Butler said.

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