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Mary Lyon Foundation Updates

Mary Lyon Foundation & MTRDS Partner on Literacy Program

When Kristen Tillona-Baker took the reins at Mary Lyon Foundation one year ago, she knew that collaborating with the Mohawk Trail Regional School District (MTRSD) would be essential for success. After all, educators are integrally connected to the day-to-day wellbeing of students in our region.

After contacting the school district, Kirsten found a kindred spirit in superintendent Sheryl Stanton. With Sheryl starting her tenure with MTRSD just six months before Kirsten took her new role, both women, fueled by a shared passion for student success, were ready to make new partnerships and expand their organizations’ impact.

“When I arrived and I understood the areas the Mary Lyon Foundation supports, which are students, families, and educators in the district, it just made sense to me that there would be increased collaboration or partnership within the school district,” Kristen told us.

She went on to say both the school district and Mary Lyon Foundation had individual strategic plans that “aligned perfectly,” which led to conversations about how they could collaborate on programs and services that would offer greater support to students, families, and educators. “Just running in parallel tracks didn’t really make sense to me. I really felt that we needed to combine our efforts to meet the goals of the strategic plans and the needs of our constituency,” stated Kristen.

Literacy Program: Closing the Reading-Readiness Gap

Early in their conversations, Sheryl and Kristen discussed how the Foundation has historically encouraged families to engage with the district’s literacy efforts. “There is a clear reading-readiness gap between students who have regular access to books and those who don’t,” said Kristen. From these initial conversations grew an impactful literacy program, aiming to close that pernicious gap.

Funded by a generous gift from a Foundation donor, the literacy program was designed to motivate home reading (and facilitate better long-term academic performance) by giving every child in MTRSD access to age-appropriate, high-interest books in their homes.

For newborns, we were able to provide packages including onesies, children’s books, and diapers to families in the district. For older students, the program has been able to make an impact in the classroom while furnishing homes with books. Last fall, the Foundation, along with MTRSD, It Takes a Village, and Coordinated Family and Community Engagement, hosted a literacy launch night for preschool through second-grade children. Following the event, books were then sent to every preschool child in the district, with plans to send additional books in the future.

“Literacy is the foundation to all learning,” Kristen said. “This is just one area where we are partnering with the school district to better the lives of our children.”

More Collaboration in the Works

To complement the literacy program, trustees of the Foundation and Kristen have been meeting with Sheryl and school committee members to support other areas like before- and after-school programming, summer camp and daycare, and school vacation care. These programs are currently funded through a grant, but fundraising efforts by the Foundation will keep them running once that money is depleted. Kristen said this is a key component to ensuring families have reliable and enriching childcare while they work.

Future plans for the collaboration also include health and wellness services as well as a discretionary fund that would allow the superintendent to apply for funding from the Foundation to cover unexpected costs related to programs and services.

Sheryl said she recognized almost immediately the impact the Foundation has had across the district and is excited to continue to see how the new collaboration will benefit the needs of students and families in the future. “One of the things I recognized is that the partnership with Mary Lyon has potential to influence the districts in a more systems-approach way. Working with Kristen has been exciting because we have a strategic plan that addresses things Mary Lyon had been working with on a smaller scale, and it’s promising that we’re now in a position where we can turn her vision into reality,” she said.

To learn more about the Literacy Program and how to get involved visit: