Book of Dreams

Color them hopeful: Printer would help students retain information

Melody Swars works with Michael Anders, 6, in her classroom. Swars teaches children in River Oaks Elementary’s program for learning handicaps and special education for kindergarten through fourth grade in Galt.
Melody Swars works with Michael Anders, 6, in her classroom. Swars teaches children in River Oaks Elementary’s program for learning handicaps and special education for kindergarten through fourth grade in Galt.

Editor’s note: For nearly 30 years, The Sacramento Bee’s Book of Dreams has helped people and organizations in our community realize their dreams.

The seven boys and girls in Melody Swars’ class are busy composing letters to Santa Claus to practice their writing skills.

“Dear Santa,” they write, slowly and deliberately, “I have been very good this year. I would like …”

But the ol’ Saint Nick on their worksheets isn’t in a jolly red suit, nor is he surrounded by cheerful elves in green. The children in the River Oaks Elementary school program for learning handicaps and special education in Galt get their class handouts, certificates and other printed materials all without color, because the only printer available to their teacher uses black ink.

“It’s a little discouraging, to see them all excited about doing a good job and then just get a black-and-white certificate to take home,” the teacher said.

It would be sad enough for any kindergarten through fourth-grade student to receive such a colorless prize, but Swars’ students have speech and language delays and other learning disabilities. Her class size is listed as seven students, but the number varies throughout the day as students needing extra help in certain subjects, such as reading and math, drop in.

“They have many different learning styles and needs, but they always try their hardest to be the best students they can be,” she said. A colorful certificate would mean a lot to them.

To this end, she says a color printer – as well as bouncy bands, colorful exercise balls and timers – would greatly enhance their experience.

According to color psychologist and branding expert Jill Morton (, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture with natural colors may be worth a million, memory-wise. Color helps us to process and store images more efficiently than colorless (black-and-white) scenes, and to remember them better, too.”

Swars and the other teachers at River Oaks do their best to make their classrooms attractive, such as painting the walls, coloring flashcards by hand, and using different colored construction paper as backgrounds for similar phonetic sounds. Instructional assistant for special education Lauren Blake has been coloring cards that go with “The BFG” reading the students have been working though.

A few classrooms away, the fourth-grade area got a totally new look; teacher Krista Dawley threw out the traditional desks in favor of a few tables, some stand-up desks/bookcases/work areas, colorful bean bag chairs, exercise balls and bobble boards.

“Studies have shown that movement helps learning, and I think it has really helped the students,” Dawley said.

Swars said she longs to use the resources of teaching sites such as, a community of 4 million educators who share their work, insights and inspiration with one another.

“There are so many interesting worksheets out there,” she said, showing off a series on dinosaurs, brilliant in their color on her computer screen. The copies she had to give to the students, in black and white, weren’t nearly as eye-catching. Swars said some teachers have bought their own color printers, but it’s beyond her budget.

Before she proposed getting a color printer, she had talks with the students about whether the class really needed one.

“Why should we ask for a color printer? Why do we need color?”

“It would be FUN!” they shouted.

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Book of Dreams has been helping people in our community for nearly 30 years. Each year during the holidays, the Sacramento Bee publishes stories of people and nonprofits in need. The dreams can be simple, such as cribs for children, a bike for a

The request

Needed: Samsung color laser multifunction printer and cartridges, four bouncy bands, seven exercise balls and two time-tracker timers.

Cost: $1,305

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