Books for Keeps: It’s Time for Summer Reading!

I am so excited to share that this was the very first year our school was served by an amazing program called Books for Keeps. This non-profit group was founded by Melaney Smith and gives 12 new books to every student in 12 of our 14 elementary schools in Clarke County. They also serve schools outside of Athens as well. It takes a massive effort in fundraising, grant writing, and volunteer hours to make this happen in each school.

I’ve had several questions on social media about this program and how it works, so I’ll try to explain it here.

Before the event:

  • Year-round Books for Keeps is fundraising, grant writing, and ordering books to deliver to their warehouse. Volunteers spend many hours sorting and boxing books grouped by grade levels and themes and sorted into stacks for delivery to schools in April & May.
  • I send a master schedule to Books for Keeps which includes the number of kids in each class. They create a draft schedule that I send to teachers for feedback.
  • During the year, Books for Keeps checks in to see if numbers need to be adjusted in each class and the schedule is finalized.
  • Boxes of books are delivered to the school and sorted into areas for quick distribution to tables.

  • Bags and tags arrive for every student. Bags & tags have to be counted out and delivered to each class. Teachers/students write student names on tags.
  • Since this was the first year, I did an introduction to Books for Keeps via Youtube Live.

  • I did a presentation to our whole faculty at a staff meeting so they were comfortable with the process and understood the purpose of BFK. The biggest things to go over were the importance of student choice and the importance of making sure every child got to participate.
  • I also sent home info to families in the my monthly newsletter.
  • A volunteer signup went out from Books for Keeps to help with distribution.
  • Right before distribution day, I arranged tables in the middle of the library.

Distribution Days May 14 & 15

  • Volunteers arrived for a morning shift and an afternoon shift

  • Leslie Hale & Justin Bray from Books for Keeps handed out aprons, clipboards and questionnaires as well as gave volunteers and overview of what to expect during each visit from classes.

  •  Leslie and Justin also unboxed books for each class session and volunteers stocked the tables.
  • As classes arrived, Leslie or Justin gave an intro to each class on choosing 12 books, the importance of summer reading, and the process for checking out with a volunteer.

  • Students carried their bags to the tables and self selected 12 new books. Volunteers were encouraged to hold back and let students look. We wanted students to self select books because that’s a huge predictor of whether kids will actually read during the summer.  If a student was having trouble making selections, then volunteers would step in to have conversations and make suggestions.

  • When students had 12 books, they visited a volunteer to count their books. Some students had too many and needed to make decisions. Others didn’t have enough and went back for more. Volunteers also asked students about which book they were most excited about as well as what was missing from the selections. This helps Books for Keeps make purchases for next year.

  • When a class left, new books came out of boxes and onto tables and the process repeated again.
  • Each class had 20-30 minutes depending on the number of students.

I’ve been hoping Books for Keeps would come to our school for several years.  There have been many initiatives where I’ve tried to get some extra books in student hands for the summer, but none as large as this one. A few things I’ve tried include:

  • Giving Middle School the Worst Years of My Life to all of our 5th graders for World Book Night. https://expectmiraculous.com/2013/04/23/world-book-night-2013/
  • Giving all 3rd and 4th graders a copy of Pie. https://expectmiraculous.com/2015/03/26/give-our-students-some-pie-by-sarah-weeks/
  • Creating summer reading buckets (home libraries) for 100 students in multiple grades. https://expectmiraculous.com/2016/05/04/home-libraries-and-summer-reading/ and https://expectmiraculous.com/2016/04/12/building-home-libraries-a-community-collaboration/

Books for Keeps takes approximately $15,000 per school which means about $30 per child. They rely heavily on donations, so if this program speaks you to, check out their site and make a donation. http://booksforkeeps.org/ 

These 2 days were amazing and filled with smiles, squeals, and students jumping straight into a book to read.  I’ve gotten messages from families who said that their child got such a great mix of books that were truly of interest. I’ve also gotten thank you notes to send to Books for Keeps with lots of great feedback from students. I can’t wait to see how this grows across the years and how students’ excitement and expectations develop.

Seeing every student in the school right before summer began also surfaced some dilemmas and questions for me. A handful of students didn’t want books to take home and weren’t afraid to say that they had no plans to read during the summer because it was their time off. Those comments bothered me, but they also gave me information about work that needs to be done ahead.  Just handing books to them isn’t going to resolve that dilemma. I’m diving into some professional reading to help me begin to think more about this.

I can’t thank Books for Keeps enough for continuing to work tirelessly to get books into kids’ hands. Even with some bumps in the road, it’s an amazing program that was overwhelmingly welcomed by teachers, families, and students. Thank you to every donor who made the funding available to purchase books and thank you to the many volunteers who put in countless hours to prepare for these 2 days.

Happy summer reading!

 

Building Home Libraries: A Community Collaboration

4reading

One of the goals of the Barrow Elementary Media Center is to support the reading habits and curiosities of students, teachers, and families.  During the school year, our library is a huge source of reading, but I often wonder what I can do to continue to support reading during the summer months when students are at home.  What do their home libraries look like? What can we do as a school to support the idea of building a home library?

Many schools in Clarke County are supported by an incredible program called Books for Keeps where every student in the school receives 12 books for summer reading. Our school will eventually be served by this organization, but at the moment, we are not. Since we can’t really raise enough money to buy books for every child in the school, I decided to start with 2 communities of students in our school.

This year, I am working with our community, writing grants, and raising funds to support families in building home libraries in their communities. The Junior League of Athens is purchasing 6 books for each student from the Bethel Homes community who attends our school.   These books are for the students to keep and share with their family. There will be a family day of learning about home libraries, creating a plan for a home library, and adding these 6 books to the home library.  We hope by taking this step, we are supporting a culture in each home of having a dedicated place to keep books that are purchased, borrowed, or donated.

Through First Book UGA, we have a $750 grant to replicate the Junior League’s program in the Parkview community. This will provide approximately 3 books per student through First Book.  In order to replicate the same program we are offering at Bethel, we needed to raise some additional funds.  After getting approval from our superintendent, I created a GoFundMe campaign to raise an additional $1,000. I began sharing the campaign through many avenues of social media as well as personal emails. Camilla Bracewell, a Barrow grandparent and huge library supporter, also shared the project through her own networks. In just over 24 hours, we raised the funds needed.

I’m notorious for jumping into a project before I really know exactly what it’s going to look like, but I always leap in with the faith of expecting the miraculous and knowing that things will work out. Now that the funds are in place, some logistics must be worked out.

Logistic 1:  If students are going to create home libraries, what will I actually use for the home library container?

I didn’t want to assume that every student had a home library at home or that they knew that a home library could be any place you keep books, so I wanted them to have a container to take home with their books. I started pricing containers at Walmart and Target and seeing what Dollar Tree had. Along the way, I posted Instagram pictures of my journey and invited people to chime in with suggestions.

People chimed in with ideas:

Then, my wife suggested that I contact Suki Janssen with the Athens Clarke County Recycling Division, so I did.  She invited me to come and check out the warehouse where the Teacher Reuse Store items are kept. This CHARM facility houses items that are difficult to recycle.  I met with Chris Griffin and he let me browse the building and see what I could find.

bins at recycling

Miraculously, I found  3 different stacks of trays in varying shapes, sizes, and conditions and was fortunate enough to take them all home with me.

Logistic #2: Getting all of these trays ready to become home libraries.

I took all of the trays home and started cleaning a few of them and brainstorming exactly what to do to the trays to decorate them.

Again, I reached out to the community for ideas. Gretchen Thomas, my collaborative partner from UGA, suggested lots and lots of spray paint.

I went out and bought some cans to do a paint test.

It was a time consuming process to clean and paint the trays and I quickly realized I couldn’t do it alone.

Logistic #3: Who can clean and paint all of these trays?

I brought all of the trays to school.

I called upon my wonderful volunteer coordinator Courtney Tobin as well as Gretchen Thomas to send out emails and ask for volunteers. Once again, the community didn’t disappoint. Camilla Bracewell came in along with Margaret Christ and her librarian mom came in to clean trays.

I also have volunteers scheduled to come in and start spray painting the trays outside.

Logistic #4: How will I order the right books for students?

Since we have a First Book account and grant, I can order books directly from First Book for a great price. I really wanted to go back to my student book budget model and give each student a certain amount of money to spend in the First Book marketplace.

However, I don’t think I have enough time to pull that off.  Instead, I created a short reading interest survey so that I can do interviews with each student and find out some of their interests in order to get the books they really want to read. Again, this isn’t something I can do alone since there’s 75 kids in this project, so volunteers are helping me interview students with printed copies of the survey.

Logistic #5: How will I get the order done?

As we interview students, I’m searching the First Book Marketplace for books that match what students are asking for. I’m adding these to a wish list that I can pull from when it’s time to order.  I’ve blocked off times on the library calendar next week to work on the actual order.  I plan to take each student survey sheet and personally search for books to meet the needs of the student request and age.  Then, I’ll use the donated funds and grant to pay the bill.

Logistic #6: How will students take ownership of the libraries?

Rather than just hand over the books and trays to students, I want them to have some investment in the project. In two weeks, we are going to hold some decorating sessions where students can come and decorate their libraries with personal touches. During that time, we’ll talk about what it means to have a home library as well as talk about sharing books between home libraries. Since these students are in the same community, there is an opportunity for students to be able to exchange books with one another if they want to.

I know that I have many more logistics to work out in this project, but it is amazing to look at where this seed of an idea has grown into a blossoming project.  I can’t wait to see where the project takes us, how it impacts students, and what we all learn about one another along the way. Having a community that pulls together around a common project makes such a difference.