Students at Title I schools across the nation have cool and delicious treats in store for them over the next few months—and no, these treats are not coming from an ice cream truck or the local bodega. Rather, the AFT and upward of a dozen AFT affiliates from Connecticut to Utah have won hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of grants for free new children’s books from First Book, which announced the awards July 15.
The national AFT was awarded a nearly $175,000 grant from OMG Books—which stands for (Offering More Great) Books to Spark Innovation—for its multistate initiative to provide funding directly to new educators through the First Book Marketplace to purchase books for classrooms and spark their students’ interest in reading. OMG helps the union provide our newest members with tangible resources as well as ongoing support through funding, professional development and mentoring.
Because more than 40 percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years, with many citing lack of support as one of the main reasons, the AFT’s free book project is one way our union is combating this crisis in the profession, says AFT President Randi Weingarten.
In its pitch to OMG, the AFT proposed awarding $50 to $250 credits for the First Book Marketplace, as well as building online communities for novice teachers on the AFT’s Share My Lesson and eLearning platforms.
“The AFT’s multistate initiative provides unprecedented support for brand-new teachers working in Title I schools,” says Kyle Zimmer, president, CEO and co-founder of First Book. “This collaborative effort will enrich classrooms in high-need communities across the country,” she said, also noting that those educators will have the ability to elevate and amplify their voices.
The AFT’s $174,600 award is the largest multistate OMG grant provided by First Book. Our national union is working with state and local affiliates to distribute the money to new teachers and paraprofessionals in eight states and Puerto Rico—Connecticut: $20,000; Louisiana: $18,000; Maryland: $8,000; Massachusetts: $25,000; Missouri: $20,000; New Mexico: $1,100; Ohio: $50,000; Puerto Rico: $22,000; and West Virginia: $10,500.
This expansion of our partnership with First Book is one facet of the AFT’s Fund Our Future campaign, in which members and allies seek to offset the terrible disinvestment in public education over the past decade. This pullback in funding has hurt our students, leading to schools without librarians, library assistants, reading specialists and the many services that support literacy. The AFT’s partnership with First Book is further proof that our members care, fight and show up for their students and the communities they serve.
First cycle of grants
In addition to the AFT multistate award, several AFT affiliates and their partners received OMG Books funding this spring in an initial round of grants through their own state-level partnerships with community groups. In this first cycle of awards, AFT Utah, Jefferson County AFT in Alabama, and North Dakota United all received funding for state-level initiatives.
AFT Utah has already started distributing books and will do more this coming school year through Latinos in Action, which features older students mentoring younger ones. Latinos in Action provides support in basic reading, with teens (pictured above) providing bilingual books to Title I classrooms and to a student mentoring group. For its programs, AFT Utah was awarded $52,000 by OMG to provide more diverse and bilingual books to classrooms. Because schools get out so early in May, most of the books will be distributed when school begins again in August.
“Our school was blessed enough to be included in the grant for multicultural/bilingual books for our students,” says Kristi Cool, a reading specialist at Municipal Elementary School in Roy, Utah, and a member of AFT Top of Utah. “Our ELL students were so excited to hear about these books. It is important for these students to be recognized and their diversity celebrated. They need to see their own lives and situations mirrored in these amazing stories.”
Cool says the OMG grant winners in Utah’s Weber and Salt Lake City schools purchased bilingual and multicultural books about immigrants and diverse families. They also bought book pairs so that two teachers at each grade level will be able to do book studies with students for their multicultural literacy night this fall. The local union sent books home with ELL students in “book baggies,” and provided books that kids could check out from their classroom libraries.
Members of North Dakota United took a different tack, focusing on working with teachers—especially new teachers—to build classroom book collections in four rural schools, as well as distributing take-home books for students in time for summer reading. “They said, ‘We get to keep these books forever?’” reading and math interventionist Sara Medalen told her union newsletter. “Just to see that excitement on their faces about reading, that’s what we want.”
A unique way of distributing the free new books is North Dakota United’s idea of hosting a book giveaway during family day at the North Dakota State Fair on July 23. This may be the first time First Book takes a bow at a state fair. For its proposal, North Dakota United won $8,250 in OMG Book funds, with an additional $7,500 from the AFT, for $15,750 in all.
Members in Jefferson County, Ala., decided to fight summer learning loss by supporting summer reading. To do this, members of the Jefferson County AFT in suburban Birmingham hosted school book fairs in May, before the end of the academic year, and partnered with the local sheriff’s department and the parks and recreation summer camps to provide books to families in need. First Book loved these members’ ideas: It gave Jefferson County AFT $15,000 in OMG book grant funds, to which the AFT added $7,500, for a total of $22,500.
To get started with the First Book/AFT partnership, register here. You’ll be supporting our joint mission to break down barriers in education by providing books and basic essentials to children in need.