Book, books and more books
As a mother, Zuleyka Sierra knows the value of a good book.
In fact, she and her three-year-old daughter Zhyanna Greene read at least one book every night at bedtime. Sometimes, two or three.
“It’s so important to read to her every day because I know she’ll get to learn more that way,” she said. “We read together every night. She knows some of the books by heart and she’s always asking for more.”
Sierra has been in luck this year, as her family is one of hundreds in Springfield who have been getting free books, thanks to the Book Rich Environment program, courtesy of a collaboration among a national coalition that includes the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Education, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, the National Book Foundation, and the Urban Libraries Council. In all, 4,000 books will be given out locally.
Springfield was chosen among 36 cities across the United States for the book distribution to children living in HUD-assisted housing. In Massachusetts, those cities are Cambridge, New Bedford and, of course, Springfield. Books include those for young readers from pre-school through middle school.
And Sierra, who lives at Sullivan, is glad her community is involved.
“We love the books because we have more to pick from that way,” she said. “I know that the more we read together, the better she’ll do in school when the time comes.”
Locally, the program unites the Springfield Housing Authority, the City Library, and the School Department, which all share a quest for improved literacy among children and families. At SHA, the program has brought books to the homes of families involved in the Talk/Read/Succeed! Program, which focuses on early literacy in a holistic approach at Duggan, Robinson Gardens and Sullivan Apartments.
The SHA has boxes of books under Book Rich Environment, and has been busy helping families build libraries in their homes, for a continuous approach to early reading. SHA Resident Services Coordinator Pamela Wells said the importance of the book giveaway program cannot be overstated.
“We work hard to instill literacy skills among our parents, who will pass that on to their children in a regular, natural fashion,” Wells said. “This program means families will have more books at their disposal for their children to access and enjoy.”
At the three T/R/S! family developments, the books have found their way to every program offered to parents and children, including Halloween costume events, parent groups, and after-school programs.
“We give them away whenever possible,” said Zenaida Burgos, T/R/S! outreach coordinator based at Sullivan Apartments.
“The families are loving this. Some are trying to build their own libraries, which can only be a good thing,” Burgos said. “It’s so exciting to see the parents and children reading together, and having new and interesting things to read at home.
“It’s all about reading success.”
The City Library is also a part of the Book Rich Environment program, and helped to coordinate the initial acceptance of the books, and distribute them to the SHA.
At the Indian Orchard library branch, Manager Diane Houle works with families at Duggan, as well as educators and students at the nearby Indian Orchard Elementary School, for a coordinated effort at promoting literacy. Being able to hand books over to families is a strategy that points to success, she noted.
“We’ve used the books to promote our summer reading club, and for any family-type events that we have,” Houle said.
“The partnership with Duggan and the school is wonderful. We’ve been able to draw in families that we wouldn’t normally see,” she said. “Those books can be the bait to develop sustained readers.”
Houle said schools and community agencies need to step up efforts to develop readers and foster relationships between children, books and libraries, to sustain a curious and educated adult population needed for any successful place.
“It’s so important to do this in a variety of ways, any ways that we can,” Houle said. “A library experience at school or at home can be a great start. Every bit of something we can do is going to make a difference.”
Her thoughts come at a time when many school systems have systematically cut back on library services, mostly for budgetary reasons.
But at the SHA family developments, the Book Rich Environment program aims to infuse literacy into the home.
“It doesn’t get any more important than reading books when it comes to raising a family,” Burgos said. “I always rejoice when they come back for more.”
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