A Merry Band of Books

Selection of A Merry Band of Books Project

 Our club first learned about A Merry Band of Books when its founder, a former teacher in the East Aurora school district, reached out to her neighbors for donations of used children’s books.  Our club President contacted Heidi Brooker for more information and subsequently invited her to speak to our club at the August 2015 meeting.

At this meeting Heidi presented information showing that student test scores in schools with high poverty and high mobility rates compare extremely poorly to those of students from more affluent and stable environments.

 It’s her belief that books, and greater opportunities to read, would make an enormous difference in these children’s lives.

 Club Assessment of Need

 Two East Aurora schools were targeted because of their high (close to 100%) poverty rates.  Mobility rates, which represent the number of students who transfer into or out of the classroom during the school year, are also at a very high level (around 20%).

 The majority of these students come from poorly educated, immigrant families where English is not spoken in the home.  They frequently live in unsafe neighborhoods, with many people living together in a small, crowded space.

 Without intervention the majority of these children will not achieve their expected reading levels and will perform at low levels in the classroom.  This will almost certainly have a lifetime impact on these young people.

Development and Implementation of the Project

Although these disadvantages are significant and difficult to overcome, an opportunity does exist to influence what these children can achieve.  Multi-year studies have shown that having as few as twenty books in the home can improve the educational success of children with these types of challenges.   However, for most of these families there are few, if any, reading materials present.  The Merry Band of Books program attempts to intervene in a positive way by regularly giving books to the children.

All first and second grade classes in the two schools were selected for the program.

At the beginning of the school year the MBOB founder visited each of the target classrooms, told the children they would be receiving books of their very own, and asked for their assurance that they would take good care of these books.

Each child was given a Library Box – a 12”x12” storage box in which to keep their books.  The box included a label for the child to write in his/her name.

 Then every two weeks a package of books, one for each student plus one or two extras, was delivered to each classroom.  This allowed the regular teacher to include this program in their lesson plan, and to handle the distribution of the books.

In support of this program our Altrusa club provided an initial grant of $107.20 to cover the cost of the library boxes.

Altrusa members have donated an additional $100 and more than 1,000 books from a variety of sources:

  • books they personally own but no longer use
  • donations solicited from family and friends
  • through the purchase of used children’s books
  • donations of surplus books that were received by other organizations – St. Charles Public Library, Literacy Volunteers of Fox Valley 
  • through corporate donation  – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishers
  • a local business woman (and guest speaker at our October meeting) who heard about the program and then solicited donations of books from clients of her fitness studio

In December 2015 the MBOB founder had a chance to work with third graders in these same two schools.  She was dismayed to see that these older children were also struggling, and that their reading skills were not noticeably better than those of the first and second graders.  She believed that including these boys and girls in the program would be an important step in helping them. 

Given the success and smooth operation of the program to date, and with the ongoing support of Altrusa members, she expanded the program in January 2016 to include these third grade children.

 Evaluation of Project

 This program has received the enthusiastic approval of the Principals and Vice-Principals at both schools.  When our Altrusa club president met with them, the leaders at each school expressed their appreciation.  They referred to other studies showing that children who read as few as 5 books during summer vacation do not experience the knowledge loss that occurs otherwise.  They also mentioned that, given the dangerous areas in which these families live, the children are generally required to stay indoors or allowed to go only as far as their yards.  They simply do not have the opportunity to visit a library on their own, which would provide access to books.  So having their own reading materials is essential if they are to have the same advantages that other children often have.

The classroom teachers have been receptive and willing to participate in this program. 

 From September 16, 2015 through February 24, 2016 the Merry Band of Books project has provided 3,956 books to 386 children in 17 classrooms at 2 schools and in one church's girls' club.   Feedback from teachers is that the children love selecting their books.  They get very excited when the books arrive and they behave all day while waiting to pick them out.

Delivery of additional books will continue through the end of the school year.

This is a low cost project which puts many books into the hands and into the homes of children who would not have them otherwise.  The goal for Merry Band of Books is to hit that ‘magic’ number of twenty books per child.  The true measure of success may not be known for some time.  But In a quiet, non-disruptive and yet significant way we hope to foster imagination and growth by opening new doors for these children. 

SYNOPSIS:

The Merry Band of Books program seeks to improve the educational outlook for children from low income homes by filling their lives with books . . . LOTS of books.  This is a low cost, high impact program, providing these children with an opportunity they otherwise do not have; to spend time reading in their own homes.


 

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