“So many of our kids have access to books at the library, but rarely do they have a book of their own. In many homes, a book would represent a real luxury item.” – Kevin Ahern, President, Syracuse Teacher’s Association
With 85 percent of students in the school district eligible for free or reduced lunch, it’s no surprise that Kevin Ahern, President of the Syracuse Teachers Association, was thrilled when presented the opportunity to provide 40,000 free books to his community. All he had to do was sign up 2,000 local teachers and program leaders with First Book.
Luckily, Kevin had plenty of help. Throughout the month of October, the Syracuse Teachers Association, along with local educators, reached out to schools, community centers and the United Way of Central New York to spread the word about First Book – and the chance to receive free books.
Jennifer Horn, a First Grade teacher at Webster Elementary in Syracuse, led the charge to encourage everyone at her school to sign up. “I was knocking on people’s doors, handing them flyers, saying ‘I don’t care if you’re not a teacher, you work with our kids! These are free books, just sign up!’”
The Syracuse Teacher’s Association successfully signed up 2,000 educators. And when 40,000 books arrived, the community rallied together to unpack, sort and distribute. At one point, the show of support was so impressive that there were more volunteers than work to do.
At 8:30 a.m., those who signed up, along with community members and parents streamed through the doors of the civic center. By 11:00 a.m. only one title was left.
“I wish we had a video of the piles of books. They just dwindled and vanished. Kids were picking out books and teachers were getting collections for their classrooms. It was impressive,” said Jennifer.
Jennifer’s excitement and motivation to help stemmed from her students and their families’ need for books. At Webster Elementary, one out of six students does not speak English. In total, 68 languages are spoken through the school, adding an extra challenge to teachers and students alike. In Jennifer’s 14 years of teaching, books have bridged the gap for students like hers.
“The kids love books even if they aren’t able to read the words. They like the pictures, they love tracking words and get really excited when they learn a few words and can recognize them in print!” she shared.
Jennifer allowed her students to choose their favorite book to take home and used some of the books to teach lessons on sharing and honesty.
“One little girl kept giving her book back to me. I said ‘no you can take it home, it’s yours.’ She pointed to her backpack and I told her ‘Yes! You can put it in your backpack and take it home!’”