By Candace Kelley
Hundreds of excited students at the Washington Community School in Plainfield gathered to receive a gift.
“I’m excited because I get to get my first Barbie book,” said second-grader Leila Nazaire.
“Literacy is the building block to financial empowerment and success as an adult,” said United Way CEO James Horne.
Plainfield’s school superintendent and mayor were on hand to give out the books. The mayor says he remembers how books affected him as a child and that reading changed his life.
“I want to make sure that we promote independent reading amongst our young people because it is so important that our young people are encouraged to read,” said Mayor Adrian Mapp.
According to Literacy New Jersey, the state is battling the statistics that in urban school districts, 40 and 60 percent of those in high school drop out — and they have reading levels below the ninth grade. So working with students while they are young is a preventive measure that also keeps kids off of their electronic devices.
“There’s a nostalgic feeling about actually having a book on hand. Sometimes our devices are great and we can download and see things, but nothing replaces that feeling of being able to turn a page,” said Washington Community School Principal Dr. Anthony Jenkins.
The book giveaway was a community effort. Local residents donated 641 books to the United Way. The Washington Community School was then chosen to receive them.
Organizers say that making reading a key part of these students’ lives has always been the school’s message. Making this event more than just a book giveaway.
“Our hope is there it’ll spurn them to go home and read and really make reading a part of their life,” Horne said.
This means making sure parents are also involved in exposing their children to books.
“Parents are our first model. If kids don’t see their parents reading, there’s a stronger chance that they won’t gravitate towards reading as a hobby or activity,” Jenkins said.
“I like reading 100 percent,” said Danashia Vonner.
Organizers of the giveaway say, clearly their efforts to make reading fun are catching on.