It Makes a Difference

Athens City Schools serves 1,573 students and has the fourth highest child poverty rate in Tennessee. It is currently serving 1,250 of those students meals, both breakfast and lunch, every day. Jennifer Walker, who has been with Athens City Schools for more than 15 years and is currently the media specialist at Ingleside Elementary, started culling the school’s library to create age-appropriate bags of books that families could take with their food. She gave away all 356 bags she put together in one day. 

“These four or five months without books will make a difference,” she said. That’s why she’s not worried about depleting her library. She won’t get the books back, to avoid contamination, but she’d rather that the kids have them now, when they need them. 

“Some of our families have to move around frequently, and many do not have Internet or Internet-ready devices. Books are the best and only option.”

Jennifer has seen the difference they make. Her school purchased books from First Book for a summer camp three years in a row, enough for each child to take home between 20 and 30 books. They tracked the reading scores of the summer camp kids when they came back in the fall—they didn’t experience summer slide, the way some of their peers did.  Many scored just as well as kids who came from homes full of books. 

“That’s what so devastating about this,” she said. 

When schools first closed, Jennifer and others from her school district drove out to deliver food to the families who can’t make their way to school to pick it up. She didn’t bring the books with her at first, because of contamination risks. She wanted to check with the parents first, to make sure they were comfortable with receiving them. The response was overwhelmingly positive—the next time books were distributed, one mother drove into the school with her kids to pick up the books. She ended up bringing some of the other neighborhood kids as well.

“When they left, her daughters asked, “What about the other kids?” so she drove them in, too.”

Parents everywhere want the best for their kids, Jennifer said, but the tools they need may not always be readily available. Which is where she comes in.

“You just want to wrap your arms around these parents,” she said. “They love their kids; they want their kids to do well. There are just so many struggles that they deal with just to get through the day-to-day.”

And the kids love the books, especially when they are new.

“The kids loved having beautiful hardback books—they don’t always have new things. One family that I know sent me a picture of her children with their books. They had spread all these beautiful hardbound books they had gotten on the living room floor and all the kids in their neighborhood came over to look at them.”

Jennifer will use grant money she received from First Book to keep getting books out to kids.