Book Love Grant recipients speak at USD 457 Board meeting
Two English teachers at Horace Good Middle School are now recipients of the Book Love Foundation Book Grant.
The grant, which began in 2012, is given to teachers throughout the United States and Canada to help teachers get books to put books into students' hands. It annually receives more than 400 applications. 63 applicants were selected for 2021.
Jose Alfredo Anaya, a seventh-grade English teacher, received the 2021 grant while A'Lana Bates, another English teacher, received the grant in 2020.
Both spoke on the grant and why reading and getting books into the hands of students is important at Monday's regular USD 457 Board of Education meeting.
Anaya said he applied because having a diverse library has always been a huge goal for him as a teacher. He was overjoyed when he found out he had won.
Growing up Anaya read books like the Harry Potter series, Old Yeller and Goosebumps, but didn't feel like the books truly represented him.
"Since I've been a teacher for the last seven years I've noticed that there's a huge lack of diversity in characters and novels that the students are reading," he said. "I am a first generation Hispanic college graduate, and I know that a lot of my students come from similar backgrounds, so I want to be able to provide them with books that will interest them and will reflect who they are but will also teach them about other cultures."
Bates said she applied because she has been growing her classroom library since 2017, which was steadily increasing due to the LiNK grant that Horace Good had for three years which provided teachers with $250 per semester, however that doesn't go very far when buying new books through the book fair.
She had also built into her budget funds to purchase used books for the classroom, but still, that only goes so far.
"A couple years before 2020, the Horace Good English teachers had done an independent book study on our own of Penny Kittle's Book Love. I was like 'I'm going to apply for the Book Love Grant because the worst they can say is no," she said. "I thought if I get this, maybe I'll get $500, I don't know, but it'll be something I can put in their hands."
Bates said research has shown that classroom libraries are the "great equalizer." Sometimes there are students who won't go to the library or can't get to the library.
"In our building we have to rotate days, every teacher gets one day every two weeks to take their whole class," she said. "We do have the ability to send students on passes, two or three at a time, but then you lose the ability to conference with those students while they're there."
Classroom libraries remove the hurdles to getting books into students' hands, Bates said. It's important to get books to students as they use them to help figure out who they are and to discover they're not alone and that their experiences are shared.
"We heard the high school presentation talk about those social-emotional self-regulations and reading is a key component in that," she said. "Teaching practices have a lasting effect on students' ability and willingness to read, and when students have a teacher who says 'hey, I know you love sports, this book made me think of you.' Almost guaranteed that student is going to say 'oh, they thought of me' and they're going to take that book and go. They may not read the whole thing, but they will engage with it and come back to you for more conversation."
Books also help students expand their knowledge of the world.
Anaya said at the beginning of the year, he did a reading interest inventory to see what students wanted to read and found that many of them really like graphic novels and historical fiction.
"Something that I tried to order to push them out of their comfort zone a little bit was some non-fiction books," he said. "I ordered different ones about different things, like the Birmingham Children's March, we're reading a novel called 'Refugee' right now, so I ordered some books about refugees from Central and South America and then I got books about Native American history in the United States, just different, non-fiction things that they could read about."
Bates said other teachers in the building have brought their at-risk or reluctant readers to her and she has helped them find books and grow their love of reading.
She gave an example of a student who as a seventh-grader she loaned a book from her war literature section the prior year came back this year to get the second in a series. She also had a 24-year-old former student, who she's stayed in contact and become friends with, call and ask to borrow the Percy Jackson book series.
"Building those relationships and getting emails from my former students who are now in the high school saying 'I have to read a book and I have no idea what to do,' OK, let's talk, let's figure out where your interest are and let's get some books in your hands, that just makes everything worthwhile," she said.
Anaya and Bates asked at the meeting for the Board to help more teachers in creating a love of books by supporting and protecting the 20 independent reading framework for all middle school students, to possibly develop cash-match opportunities for future Book Love grant recipients, to approve furniture requests for more durable shelving that better fits a teacher's specific classroom, to provide professional development opportunities for teachers regarding independent reading and its benefits, to train instructional coaches on ways to support independent reading in classrooms and to possibly get certified libraries available to teachers.