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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

Standing Taller Because of Books

By Daniele Berman, Operations Manager

This article originally ran in the Durham Herald-Sun on Sunday, May 15.

“They stand taller and hold their heads higher,” shares ESL teacher Catriona Moore as she reflects on how owning books affects her students.

It didn’t take Moore long after joining the staff of Durham’s Forest View Elementary School in 2011 to realize that her students needed books. As one of five ESL teachers at this linguistically- and economically-diverse school, Moore wanted to find a tangible way to help improve the quality of life for her students and their families.

So she reached out to Ginger Young, who had recently founded Book Harvest, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide books to children who need them most. They teamed up and, together, ran Books on Break at Forest View in 2012. Four years later, Catriona’s efforts are still going strong.

The idea is simple: students participating in Books on Break each choose 10 books from a vast selection offered at their school.  They then take their new books home at the start of summer, armed with the tools to help them retain their hard-won academic skills from the prior year.

All children are enriched by access to books during the long weeks of summer. Yet when school isn’t in session, children from lower-income families don’t have the bookshelves and bedside tables filled with books that their middle- and upper-income classmates do.

This puts them at a disadvantage when they come back to school. In fact, summer learning loss accounts for 80% of the income-based achievement gap, and studies show that book ownership is one of the keys to drastically reducing that loss. At schools like Forest View, Book Harvest partners with educators like Moore who are passionate about literacy, to make sure that children who need books start their summer break with a backpack filled with books they have chosen themselves to take home and keep forever.

“It’s not even all about reading the books!” laughs Moore, as she explains why the ownership component of Books on Break is so essential. “It fosters a love of reading, pride in ownership, a sense of agency” that she says is difficult to quantify but is obvious to teachers when they see their students’ response to being invited to select books to own. They stand taller and hold their heads higher, she explains, because they’re proud of the home libraries they’re building.

And for some students who have participated in Books on Break each year for the past four years—during which over 30,000 books have been selected by Forest View students alone–those home libraries are growing to be very substantial.

School testing data support what educators like Moore already know: owning books makes a difference. Books on Break is combating summer learning loss at schools like Forest View, but equally importantly, Moore and her colleagues know anecdotally how valuable the books are to their students. They share stories with Moore about where they keep their books: one on a special shelf in the kitchen, where everyone in the family can access them, and others in places like under their pillows, where they’re sure to be safe no matter what else is going on at home.

Before they head home for summer break, nearly 400 children at Forest View will be invited to choose any 10 books they would like from the more than 4000 available, half provided by Book Harvest, and half provided by the school community itself through the year-round collection bins where families are regularly encouraged to donate. Similarly, all students at Glenn, Lakewood, Eastway, and Y.E. Smith Elementary Schools will do the same, with 2790 students total in Durham slated to participate in Books on Break in 2016 – standing tall, heads held high.

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