Bright Spots are written and produced by the Campaign to showcase the work in Grade-Level Reading communities to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016. Continue reading below or download a PDF version.  

Young struggling readers at an elementary school in Richmond, Virginia, have new books that enable them to get better instruction to boost their reading proficiency, thanks to a grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School in Richmond, a Campaign for Grade-Level Reading community, used a $3,000 Youth Literacy Grant from the foundation to develop a “leveled” library of paired fiction and nonfiction books that meet the varying ability levels of the school’s kindergarten through second-grade students.

Although available to all students, the new books will be used primarily by about 30 students in need of extra help who are grouped with up to six children of similar ability. The groups meet daily for an hour, about half the time with a teacher, the other half with a tutor.

“We’re now able to better provide instruction to students on their instructional level, giving them exposure to fiction and nonfiction texts, and helping teachers teach in small group settings,” says Laurie Duncan, Title 1 reading specialist at the K-5 school, where about one-third of the about 180 kindergarten through third graders do not read at grade level.

Richmond is one of dozens of communities across the country, including many with GLR campaigns, benefiting from Dollar General Youth Literacy Grants made to schools, public libraries and nonprofit organizations to improve the reading ability of students reading below grade level or experiencing difficulty reading.

Communities can use the one-year grants of up to $4,000 to implement new or expanded literacy programs; purchase new technology or equipment to support literacy initiatives; and to buy books, materials or software for literacy programs.

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation also supports the GLR agenda nationwide. Created in 1993 by the large discount retailer, the foundation has awarded more than $98 million to nonprofit organizations and schools — helping more than 5.8 million children and adults advance their literacy and basic education skills. In addition to youth literacy, the Tennessee-based foundation’s grant programs address summer reading, family literacy and adult literacy.

In Richmond, before J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School was awarded the Dollar General grant in 2014, students receiving extra tailored instruction in small groups read from paper photocopies of books, which wore out easily. Now they read from real, brand-new books. The school used the grant to buy six copies each of 54 titles geared to a range of reading ability levels.

“Teachers should teach on students’ instructional level, which is not always their grade level. Some students are above or below grade level so we wanted to have these books available for them,” explains Duncan. “If you use one single text in class, you miss…the majority of students. To increase students’ reading level, they need to read texts that are not too far over their heads.”

Pairing fiction and nonfiction books also offers “real world” benefits. “As our students get older, they are exposed to more and more nonfiction texts. Most of the things that you absolutely have to read are nonfiction. So we want to ensure that they are getting exposure early on to both the fiction and nonfiction,” explains Duncan.

“A lot of what we talk about in the younger grades is fantasy vs. realism,” she adds. So pairing a nonfiction and fiction book helps students “see that connection” between the two. Some first graders, for example, will read the paired fiction/nonfiction combo Goldilocks Comes Back and Who Lives in the Woods.

The small groups use “guided reading,” where students both are read to and read on their own. “The hope is to keep [students] moving through the levels,” says Duncan. “Anytime someone supports our initiative here, we’re extremely pleased. The more resources we have, the better we will be able to provide instruction and make sure students meet expectations.” 

For more information, contact Laurie Duncan at 804-780-4879 or Jason Miczek, Laurie Duncan; Publication Date: Winter 2015. To nominate a community to be featured as a Bright Spot, please contact Betsy Rubiner at

For more about the grants, go to Dollar General Youth Literacy Grants. 

Does your community have a similar effort? If so, share your experience in the comments box!

Want more? Check out:  

  • How Worcester, Massachusetts has increased children's access to public libraries by housing branches in public schools.
  • How Longmont, Colorado is offering two parent education programs that provide school readiness and support — Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors and Nurturing Parenting. 


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Betsy Rubiner is a writer and senior consultant with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

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  • I can see that the districts in my state could really benefit from pursuing funding such as this. WV is relatively new to the Campaign so it is taking some transformative thinking to help local districts to take ownership of their campaigns.
    • I'll make sure and connect you with your peers in Georgia and Arkansas. Feels like there's some peer learning that could occur. Thanks for sharing your experience!
  • This is a terrific example of how private funders and community groups can support high quality instruction for all students! This includes so many evidence based strategies - using fiction and non fiction, guided reading, small groups, leveled libraries - and all supported in part by an outside grant!
  • Congratulations on the grant! Really like the guided reading strategy.
  • This is a good example of how even small grants can have impact. It's a nice example of good corporate philanthropy. Great to see the pairing of fiction and non -fiction choices!
  • Kudos, Richmond! I am so glad to see that this initiative includes non-fiction texts as well as fiction titles. So much of what we need to read and comprehend throughout our lives is non-fiction, yet non-fiction genres don't get nearly the attention they deserve in most primary settings. Congratulations on your first book distribution!
  • The nonfiction and fiction pairings are such a good idea. Really like that strategy. What sort of training do tutors receive?
    • Thanks, Susanne! A few years ago I attended a few professional development sessions on the benefits of fiction/nonfiction pairs. We are lucky in that we are able to hire tutors that are retired teachers. Therefore, they are already skilled in teaching reading to students. I provide an overview of our materials and instructional routines for the tutors. The district literacy team provides further training on the structure of the tutoring time and important skills and strategies.
      • That's quite the confluence of effective strategies. I hope the person you took the professional development session from can see this profile to realize how you took the concept and put it into action.
  • Richmond is beginning a new effort to get books in the homes of pre-school children. Called RVA Reads, we will distribute one book per month for the next four months to all pre-school children enrolled at the three pre-school centers of Richmond Public Schools. Our first book distribution is today!
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