Reading is an important skill. In fact, studies have shown that students who do not read well by the end of third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma. Poverty makes dropping out even more likely.
That's why our tutoring program and reading club (during non-COVID times) and our current Remote Learning Center are so important. We do not want our students to fall behind. They are facing enough challenges in their lives. Reading is something that can either help them or hurt them for the rest of their academic and employment endeavors.
One of the ways we encourage reading is by having a lot of books around. The classrooms always have some books to choose from that relate to the current season (for example, last month there were lots of books about Christmas and this month there are books about snow and presidents).
We also have a library. In fact, while the students were on break and the center was quiet for the holidays, I spent some time organizing the library to make it easier to know which books we have and to make it easier to find them.
We have a wide variety of books for pre-k through teens. They cover topics of colors and shapes, feelings and friends, history and science. Some are favorites from decades past and some are new releases from the last couple of years. All have been donated from churches, organization and individuals who want to support our students reading habit. And we are so grateful for all of the books in our collection!
One thing that I noticed was lacking, however, was diversity. The vast majority of the books that featured humans (not animals) as the main characters, had white characters. None of the students who are currently part of the Open Arms Community are white. They are Hispanic/Latinx or African-American/Black. Most of the books about fictional characters and historical figures do not tell their stories. We do not even have a book about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to share with the students next week for MLK day.
It is important for students to see people who look like them having adventures, making mistakes and learning from them, and succeeding. It is important for them to have role models to look up to, role models who look like them and/or come from similar backgrounds. It is important to normalize diversity. We are a nation that will be majority non-white by the time these children are having children of their own. It's time our literature reflects that reality.
To help remedy this situation, I have added a few books to our Amazon wish list. The list has been up since last year. It includes art supplies as well, but for now, I ask folks to look at the books on the list (or other books that you are aware of for young readers that focus on characters of color who may share a similar background as our students). If you would like to help our library be more inclusive and better representative of the students in our care, please consider donating a book or two. Thank you for your support.