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Stranger treats literacy students to new books

THORNTON - Choosing just one book is hard to do when reading is this new and exciting thing in your life. Having the chance to handpick a book to keep is thrilling.

Many of them had never been there before.

Until landing in Shelby Dennis' literacy program, many students at Explore Elementary couldn't read at their grade level. Books were not a prominent part of their lives. Many of them didn't read in bed at night. A lot of them didn't go to the public library let alone a bookstore.

"We would ask how many books the kids had at home," Dennis said. "Many of them would say, 'one or two.' That was kind of an impetus for us to get more books in their hands and have them reading at home."

Dennis was determined to start a library at Explore Elementary. She has written grants and held fundraisers to buy books for the kids. She has graciously accepted donations. The library has grown tenfold since May.

Dennis says the new found excitement for reading has changed the culture not only in the literacy program at Explore but throughout the entire school.

Her enthusiasm and determination to make betters readers caught the attention of 9NEWS and led to her recognition of the May 2011 winner of the 9Teachers Who Care award.

HERE'S 9NEWS ORIGINAL STORY ABOUT DENNISIt was that story that caught the attention of an online reader from California. The woman first sent a donation to Dennis at the start of the school year. That money was used to purchase books for the library.

A second donation came in recently from this same woman. That money was used to treat 60 Explore literacy students to the book of their choice.

The students carefully went up and down every aisle in the children's section of the Barnes amp; Noble in the Thorncreek Shopping Center. They received a tour of the facility (and learned there are 50,000 books inside!), enjoyed a group reading and were treated to a snack at the store's café.

The best part of it all was that they left with a brand new book.

When I first met Shelby Dennis last spring, she kept talking about the joy of seeing the "light bulb" go on among the struggling readers as they became proficient readers.

On this visit to the bookstore, Dennis was the one who shined the most brightly. She is quite proud how her students have embraced reading.

One footnote: When Explore opened in 2006, only 30 percent of the students (K-6) were proficient in reading. Thanks to Dennis' dedication and attention to the children, the proficiency rate bounced to 51 percent in 2010. The numbers remain on the rise. />