The Gift of Reading
Thea Stidum knows first-hand the importance of literacy. She taught first grade for many years in the Sacramento school district before moving up the ranks to become the first female principal of her school.
“I taught first grade,” says Thea, “and many youngsters came from homes where no English was spoken and there was some poverty involved and a lot of people on welfare—they weren’t exposed to books. It was so much fun in first grade to do nursery rhymes and silly poems and that kind of thing. The kids loved silly words, and they loved getting engaged with a book and being able to read.”
She adds, “You can’t really succeed in school or anyplace else unless you can read. It just has to start young.”
After teaching but before going into administration, Thea received her master’s degree from the University of Wyoming College of Education in its nationally recognized counselor education program. She remembers her time fondly: “I just can’t thank the university enough for that particular program and the training I got there. It prepared me for everything else I did after that.”
These are the reasons that Thea has pledged a significant gift in support of the University of Wyoming College of Education’s new Literacy Center and Clinic, which will serve as the epicenter of literary expertise in the state. Located on the first floor of the College of Education Annex, the center’s mission is to improve the quality of literacy learning, literacy instruction, and literacy leadership for all Wyoming children, birth through high school.
“Only a very small number of major donors at UW can be recognized for their support of the College of Education—it is rarified air territory of which Thea Stidum is a part,” says Kay Persichitte, dean of the College of Education. “Thea’s giving history in the College of Education was extensive before her recent major gift to the Literacy Research Center and Clinic. She is a long-time, active member of the College Advisory Board. Her passion, commitment, and focus on public education settings and services that support learning for all children are unmatched. We are so fortunate that Thea has chosen to support us in so many ways.”
At present, there are two types of literacy organizations in the nation—there are clinics that collaborate with schools where children and their parents come for diagnostics, and there are university centers that perform research that is disseminated to the public. UW’s center and clinic combines both of these models into an innovative and holistic new approach that is unmatched in the nation.
Bringing all this together, the UW center will serve as a clinic and outreach center for children throughout Wyoming, it will perform research that will be disseminated through technology transfer, and it will team up with school and community organizations. Rather than simply accusing schools of failing, the center will collaborate with schools to identify issues and then find solutions to those problems.
Not only is the Literacy Center and Clinic an exemplar of this vital new approach, it is also a model of the public-private partnership among the university, the State, and private donors. In addition to Thea Stidum, lead gifts have been received from Mickey and Jeanne Klein, the Joe and Arlene Watt Foundation, Don and Betty Walters, and the John P. Ellbogen Foundation. The State Legislature has thrown its support behind the effort, and First Lady Carol Mead has been actively advocating on its behalf.
The center is scheduled to open in the winter of 2013.