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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

16,000 books?


By Daniele Berman, Community Partnerships Manager

16,002 to be exact.

That’s how many books were selected by the 89 educators and nonprofit partners who attended yesterday’s 12-hour Books to Go distribution for middle and high school students.

(That’s 1,333 books per hour, in case you don’t want to do the math yourself. Or 22 books per minute. Or a book every three seconds.)

But what happens to all those books now?

We often show you really cute pictures of our Book Babies or elementary students participating in our Books on Break program. But we don’t often show you tweens and teens selecting Book Harvest books.

Maybe middle and high school students don’t need books? Or maybe they don’t like to read? Or maybe tweens and teens just aren’t cute.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk with a few of our partners who were selecting books to take back to their students at their schools and organizations. Here’s what they had to say about what “their babies” (whom they all agree are very cute, at least once in a while) think about all these books:

Meet Rhonda Cooley, Media Administrative Assistant at Lucas Middle School, who selected 433 books for her babies yesterday.

At Lucas, Rhonda works with the Media Center Coordinator and the EC teacher to set up a free book fair for the students who need books the most. They give personal invitations to those students, who are invited to choose the 6-10 books they are most excited about. They are also invited to take home books for their siblings. Rhonda explains that getting children excited about reading first, before teachers “make” them read things they might not like, is the key to her students’ success. And she says that the way to get them excited is to provide them lots of books to choose from themselves.

“I love reading,” shares Rhonda. “Reading was my escape as a child. Books were my quiet place, where I went when I needed peace. My childhood wasn’t easy, and I know many of our students have it even harder.”


Next, meet Rubie Lawson, founder and program coordinator of the afterschool tutoring program at Union Baptist Church in Durham, and Rosena Freeman, Rubie’s “sidekick” without whom Rubie doesn’t go anywhere or accomplish anything.

Have you ever heard of the tutoring program at Union Baptist? Ever seen an advertisement about signing up as a volunteer or bringing your child for tutoring? No? That’s because there is no advertising.

For the past ten years, Rubie has run the program completely by word of mouth, offering one-on-one tutoring for any student in grades K through 12 who needs it. Any student in the community can participate, not just church members. Each of the approximately 50 students enrolled each year works with the same individual tutor for an hour every week. The more students who enroll, the more tutors Rubie finds, from within and outside the church’s congregation. And while the program technically takes place at the church, Rubie makes sure that no students miss out on the opportunity to have a tutor, with some sessions even happening at students’ or tutors’ homes.

With the 285 books they selected at Books to Go yesterday, Rubie, Rosena, and the other volunteers at Union Baptist are going to hold a free summer reading book fair at the church, inviting their tutoring students to select books first, then opening it up to the wider community.


Next, meet Kathryn Regalado, social studies teacher at Neal Middle School.

Since they started attending Books to Go distributions in 2015, Kathryn and her colleagues have set up and continually restocked a free book cart just inside the entrance to their school. Students and community members know that they can select books from the cart at any time. Many teachers also do periodic “book shops,” free book fairs held in their classrooms to share the books they have selected. And some of the 230 books Kathryn and her colleagues selected for their students yesterday will be available for students to read when they have downtime after they have finished their EOG testing or as end-of-year gifts from the teachers.

Kathryn says that the students have experienced a lot of growth in their reading since Books to Go started making books available to them. She says that often, pleasure reading isn’t a high priority for her students, who may not have access to books that are relatable, interesting, or on the right level for struggling readers who still want to have access to middle school-level content. She also shares that because books for older children tend to be more expensive than those for elementary students, many children may have been given a book when they were young but have never had a chapter book to read as they’ve gotten older.

“It sounds really silly,” says Kathryn, “but these books bring immense joy to our students.”


And finally, meet two of our partners from Hillside High School.

Elizabeth Strauss is the new Media Center Coordinator at Hillside, and when she received the invitation to Books to Go, she asked her principal, Dr. William Logan, if she could attend. “I was hoping you would,” was his response.

Elizabeth arrived early in the morning and loaded up her car with 350 books. She headed back to Hillside and made an announcement over the PA system: a table with free books would be available starting during the first lunch period.

She was in the office when the bell rang for lunch, and she says that when she heard the roar in the hallway outside, she realized she was missing a really exciting moment. When the frenzy was over, all 350 books were gone and there were still more students coming for the later lunch period. So she checked in with her principal again and called over to Book Harvest to see if she could come back. This time Dr. Logan came with her, and they took 473 books back in time for the second lunch crowd.

Elizabeth shared the story of one avid reader who was particularly excited about selecting books. She came down the hallway, started looking through the books–and before she knew it, the hallway was empty and she had to hustle to make sure she didn’t miss the bus for her class field trip! Members of Hillside’s Battle of the Books team, which took third place this year, were also among the most excited about the opportunity to select books to build their home libraries.


What’s the takeaway (other than the 16,002 books the teachers took away yesterday, of course)?

Middle and high school students want and need books to read during the summer, too! And they get excited–really excited–about the opportunity to pick their own books from among the hundreds of thousands our community has donated. Many thanks to all of our book donors who make Books to Go possible! We are especially grateful to our friends at First Book and United Way of the Greater Triangle for providing lots of brand new books for this distribution as well.


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