Raising A Reader names longtime Basalt Elementary principal new executive director
After decades of being one of the first and strongest advocates for Raising A Reader, Suzanne Wheeler-Del Piccolo took the helm of the early childhood literacy nonprofit.
Wheeler-Del Piccolo takes the role of executive director after serving as principal at Basalt Elementary School for 22 years. In 2004, as Raising A Reader Aspen to Parachute was just getting off the ground, she was one of the first school administrators to implement the organization’s keynote red book bag program, which provides students 5 and younger with reading materials. Outgoing Executive Director Cindy Blachly said there has been no singular partner that has had the same level of impact on the organization.
“She has been our strongest advocate out of all the districts, not an understatement,” Blachly said.
Blachly, who is departing to pursue personal interests, added that the organization has never had a leader from an educational background and that Wheeler-Del Piccolo’s experience in that realm plus her already deeply established connections to the community set her up for success in the role.
Raising A Reader attempts to foster an interest in reading in early education students through programs like the red book bag. It also provides parental outreach and guidance on how to promote literary success at home. The organization works with over 1,000 Roaring Fork Valley/Garfield County students a week.
Wheeler-Del Piccolo takes the reins in a pivotal moment for youth education. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said students aren’t dealing with just a loss of learning but missing learning entirely at the early childhood education levels.
“Our youngest children are going to kindergarten and first grade, and they have limited experience in the classroom,” Wheeler-Del Piccolo said. “Parents didn’t even have access to a public library to get books in the hands of their children. I feel like Raising A Reader has this great opportunity right now to really help close those gaps in learning.”
Both Blachly and Wheeler-Del Piccolo said the most pressing issue is fundraising, citing their own roadblocks due to COVID-19. The organization has to replace some learning materials lost when services were temporarily shut down.
Wheeler-Del Piccolo, however, welcomes the challenge of addressing youth literacy, as she was when she started out as a preschool teacher more than 30 years ago.
“It is so easy for me to get excited about it,” Wheeler-Del Piccolo said. “I have that long-term experience with Raising A Reader, and I know its impacts for children.”
Wheeler-Del Piccolo officially began Oct. 1 and is in the middle of a two-week transition period with Blachly.
More information about Raising A Reader is available at RAR4Kids.org.
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