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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

Launching the Mind

By Mimi O’Brien and Todd Taylor, The Durham Rotary Club

Suddenly, it’s show time! The set-up is finished, the personal shoppers are in place, and a pop-up bookstore at Y.E. Smith Elementary School in Durham is ready for business.  With a theme of “Launch into Summer,” a group of Durham Rotary Club, community, and parent volunteers greets the first class of students, ready to help them select 10 books each to take home and keep, just in time to blast off for summer break.  This isBooks on Break, a signature program of Book Harvest that seeks to combat summer reading loss and help students arrive back at school in the fall ready to learn.

After a quick orientation—choose 10 books, including a number of “just right” books, share them with your friends over the summer, have fun reading them—the students rush to the tables. Volunteers ask them what kind of stories they like, search through the many, many books, and coax them into trying something new—all in the spirit of helping them select books for their own personal libraries.  Over three days, all pre-K-5 students have a chance to choose their books. The books are free for the kids to keep, share or trade with classmates.  It is a blast for students and volunteers!

This collaboration brings together Y.E. Smith, Book Harvest, and the Durham Rotary Club’s (DRC) Reading Rangers in a 3-way partnership focused on helping all Y.E. Smith students develop a love of reading. Y.E. Smith is part of the East Durham Children’s Initiative. The Reading Rangers is a literacy tutoring program with Rotarian and Community volunteers aimed at helping K-3 students read on grade level. The DRC learned about Book Harvest’s need for community partners who can marshal the volunteer fire power to run these pop-up bookstores. Book Harvest has the books and the plan, but with just 2 staff members, they need partners who can help provide the volunteers to expand this great program to more Durham schools.  It was such a natural extension of the Reading Ranger program that we knew we had to do it.

We put out the call to Durham Rotary Club, their friends, and Y.E. Smith parents, and we were humbled by the response: more than 50 people staffed 8 sessions, including set up, personal shopping assistants for the children, and clean up. The Y.E. Smith teachers, staff, and leadership were enthusiastic partners—it couldn’t have happened without their active involvement. When it was all over, 407 students had selected 4,070 books.

It is nearly impossible to convey in writing the feeling of watching a reluctant reader’s face light up when she realizes that she gets to choose 10 books and keep them, but we’ll try: heart-melting, thrilling, a sense of having turned an important corner. Or helping a student discover new stories, a book on a favorite topic (sharks! penguins! wolves!), or a book a sibling would like. Come experience it for yourself!  How can you help?  Be a volunteer or support Book Harvest with contributions of time, books, money, or provide the string bags that the kids use to contain their new treasures.  You can join an existing program or work with your civic club, religious community, or workplace to help Book Harvest expand to other schools. Jump in; you’ll be glad you did.  Watch the kids prepare to take off, explore new worlds, and expand their minds all from home. 

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