Educators book their summer travels through literature

Katie Sacco and Bill Conrad of the Kenmore Teachers Association. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Katie Sacco and Bill Conrad of the Kenmore Teachers Association. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

This week, educators across New York are unpacking cartons of NYSUT-provided books they received from First Book to hand out to students. The beautiful books come in hardcover and softcover, and include recent, popular titles and classical fiction. There are funny books, adventure books and mysteries. Titles include middle-grade books, young-adult books and books in a series. There is “Starting From Here,” “Clementine,” “Fall to Pieces,” and “Perfect Scoundrels.” There is the smell of ink and paper, and the sound of a spine creaking as a book is opened for the first time.

And there is opportunity for you, at your school, to receive books as well.

Hefty cartons were handed over to educators from 20 local unions as part of NYSUT’s Local Action Project, which helps locals build relationships with their communities. The five-day program was held last week in Saratoga Springs. Four of the local unions attended LAP are in Title I districts, and they each received 400 books.

“For our students, it’s huge to put books in their hands,” said Katie Sacco, a first-grade teacher from Kenmore Teacher Association who was thrilled to be getting so many good books. “We have a lot of kids who are transient and a high concentration of refugees. Some of them don’t have any books in English, or any books(at all) because they couldn’t take them with them.”

Bill Conrad, a Kenmore TA high school social studies teacher, said because of the ongoing state budget problems, some local public library branches have been shut down,  limited their hours or are unaccessible because they are not on a bus route — a problem experienced by many communities. It is difficult for students to get access to books in the summer.

First Book is a not-for-profit that provides books for low or no cost to schools and community organizations in high-need areas. NYSUT has teamed up with the American Federation of Teachers — one of its national affiliates — and First Book to make books available to any district through a Literacy Leaders program.

At LAP, the other 16 local unions each received a carton of books, to be handed out at events at school to let educators know they can sign up for free or reduced price books for their students. Any educator can sign up through this program.

“These books will be used to start a First Book project within their local,” said Paul Webster, NYSUT director of community relations. “The whole purpose of the project is to get members to sign up.”

Why? Because the more NYSUT members who sign up to receive books from First Book through www.firstbook.org/aft, the more NYSUT is eligible to receive a truckload of books. Yes, a truckload of 40,000 books. And these books will be sent out to schools throughout New York and shared with public libraries and other eligible not-for-profit community organizations, Webster explained.

“You may not live in a poor district but every community has poverty pockets so, by getting books into libraries, everyone can share,” Webster said.

Since March, NYSUT has helped distribute 180,000 First Books to public school children across the state.

Any school that is Title I can apply online; others can apply through the Literacy Leaders program. NYSUT has been involved with First Book since 2012. So far, 3,500 members have signed up, Webster said.

For many students, these books may indeed be the first books in their homes. For others, who do not have transportation to get to public libraries or do not have money to buy books, the stories will keep them from the “summer slide,” when many students lose reading skills.

For most of the students, the books will allow them to travel to far-off places in their imagination as they follow the story. I have found few things in life more enjoyable than cracking open a new book while laying outside on a summer evening on my hammock, or while sitting at a beach by the river or the ocean. That has been my story since I was old enough to read.

First Book will allow so many more students to experience this, both during the summer months and the school year: to have a book of their own.

For those students who are searching for what to read, First Book’s recommended summer titles are arranged by age group.

Meanwhile, tonight, I’ll continue reading “I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place,” a  memoir of an unusual life by Howard Norman, author of the amazing novel “The Bird Artist,” a National Book Award finalist.

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