NEEF innovative grant helps students overcome reading barriers

May 12, 2021 | Featured, News, Our Stories

When fourth grade student Jeeva Kattapuram read the first page of novel “Esperanza Rising” by Pam Muñoz Ryan, she was hooked. Before she knew it, she was turning the last page.

“My friend and I were reading the book together and we agreed to only read one chapter at a time, but I couldn’t stop reading it,” Jeeva said. “I had to keep going.”

It wasn’t just the author’s clever swirl and swing of words that kept Jeeva entranced though.

The novel is part of Hardy Oak Elementary’s new library collection of large print books funded by a North East Educational Foundation innovative grant. These books feature fewer words per page, one-third more spacing, high contrast black ink and expanded spacing between words.

While these adjustments are beneficial to any reader, they make a world of a difference for struggling readers, English as a second language learners and dyslexia students.

“I know for my kiddos with dyslexia, the books are really great because they have that extra space between the lines that allows them to really focus on the words without feeling like the lettering is cluttered on the page,” dyslexia teacher Ashlee Lara said. “Having a slightly bigger text is really good for them because it helps them with letter reversals and letter confusions.”

Fifth grader student Reese Carver feels much more confident reading.

“I really like the large print books because sometimes it’s hard for me to read, and with small print books, I just feel like sometimes I get the words mixed up,” Reese said. “These books are just better to read more clearly. I really like them better than the small print books and they feel shorter.”

Thanks to thinner pages, the books also look like regular chapter books.

“Students are able to feel like they’re checking out a regular book,” Lara said. “A book that no one else is going to look at and notice that it’s any different.”

Librarian Laurie Darilek, who co-wrote the NEEF grant with Lara, is happy to see students ranging from Special Education to Gifted and Talented (GT) making a beeline to the large font books collection.

Fifth grade student Kaija Posoz is another student flying through the new books.

“The large print books are much easier for me to read because I struggle reading books that have small print in it,” Kaija said.

In just a few weeks, she read five large font chapter books.

“It makes reading more fun,” she added.

To learn more about NEEF’s innovative grants making a difference for NEISD students, visit

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