One of the greatest ways to build empathy in humans is through literature. In a country divided, at the height of a pandemic stealing our loved ones' lives, students need diverse books in their hands more than ever.
Research has shown that reading rates among kids learning virtually has decreased significantly-- yet research also says we must be supporting kids in their reading volume to see real growth in their reading levels. As an English teacher, I'm dedicated to supporting my students' reading. However, virtual books only provide so much engagement for kids. They can't feel the book in their hands, see the back cover, turn the pages. They are missing the true experience and enjoyment of reading. Libraries are closed and families are struggling to put food on the table. Sending kids a personalized note with a book would go a long way in helping them feel the love and support they so desperately need right now.
I teach in a public middle school in the School District of Philadelphia, where 100% of students K-8 are considered "low income." In a recent class survey, I asked what kind of protagonist students would like to read about. They want to read about students like themselves-- Black and Brown teenagers dealing with every day dramas. They want to read about social justice. About teenagers with disabilities, with autism, with families as big as their own. They want to read about gender fluid and nonconforming teens, queer teens, teens who are in foster care, Black girls who don't fit the "strong and independent" trope you so often see. They're begging for diverse books!
My project would give each of my 77 students at least one new book to hold and read, and would come with a personal note from me. They would choose from a list of texts with protagonists they've asked for. I would then order the books, and mail, deliver, or provide a pick up location (depending on the family's request).
Funded by Philadelphia, PA (January 2021)