WHEATLAND – Community members, family and friends from all over Platte County came to honor local resident Susan Bednasek as she was presented the Carol Mead Leaders in Literacy award from Amy Spiker who is the executive director for the University of Wyoming Literacy Research Center and Clinic in Laramie.
The special ceremony with a catered snack luncheon was held in the Wheatland High School commons area April 28 at 4 p.m.
According to Spiker, This award is a way to recognize and honor Wyoming citizens, organizations, businesses, or communities that have made substantial contributions to enhance the literacy development among the Wyoming community.
Bednasek is the founder and director of the Platte County Early Literacy Project (PCELP). She created this foundation to serve families with children from birth to age three as they prepare children for school. The program begins at birth with a gift basket containing early literacy information and a book. Children then receive a book at six months, and an educational toy and book on every birthday until they reach 3 years of age.
“One thing that we do every year is select a winner of the Carol Mead Leaders in Literacy award,” Spiker told those who had gathered at WHS. “This year COVID tried to have us not celebrate this, but we persevered. We received some great nominations, but Susan’s resume rose to the top for us. Susan has put in a lot of work from 2013 supporting early literacy skills in your community, supporting kiddos so they are ready to read when they get to school. In addition to this plaque, we are also going to give her financial support to help her keep the momentum going.”
After being honored with the award, Bednasek stepped to the pulpit and shared a brief history as well as presenting some hopes for the future.
“I just did not see this coming,” Bednasek said. “I was kind of struck speechless which is highly unusual for me. Because I want to share with you that my mother Carrie Wheeler read to me constantly. She sang, she danced, she played and she read. Now. I didn’t read a lick until the end of second grade, but on my kindergarten report card it said that I had an extensive vocabulary, which, the teachers in here will know, that it’s code for… she talks a lot.”
The program that Bednasek has developed and honed into a successful teaching method for pre-school children comes from her years of teaching experience and the wisdom that comes from evaluating the educational system and finding cracks that need to be fixed. Bednasek is a fixer. She has the innate ability to not only see the need, but then develops solutions to fill the void.
“Long before it was a program, there was a lot of years where it was just a lot of talk and lot of runnin’ around tryin’ to find somebody. First there’d be money, then there’d be no money. I would like to thank the people that supported this program from its inception. Now it’s been 10 years since it started.”
Bednasek, in her humble and gracious way, proceeded to make sure everyone who had helped with the program was properly and gratefully thanked with candid stories about each one she was praising and including them in her award celebration.
Formerly known as the First Lady's Leaders in Literacy Award, the honor was established in 2016 by the University of Wyoming's Literacy Research Center and Clinic Outreach Advisory Board to recognize the work of Wyoming's former first lady, Carol Mead, to promote literacy throughout the state.
Along with Amy Spiker who spoke the praises of Bednasek, also on hand was the Wyoming Literacy Research Center board member and Senator Jeff Wasserburger, Converse County Wyoming State District 23.
“When the Meads were in the governor’s mansion, Carol Mead chose as her project, reading,” Wasserburger said. “She asked me to serve on the committee with her. My involvement in this was years ago when we created the Hathaway fund. At that time, Wyoming was experiencing billions of surplus. We used essentially this trust fund to all of the Hathaway scholarships. Also, part of that was called the endowed chairs. I took four of those chairs and made two for reading, one for science and one for math. At that time we combined the literacy research center and clinic at the same time. The growth of that over the years has just been amazing.”
Refreshments and visiting went forth after the presentation.