Despite harsh weather, Detroit First Book event a big hit

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Winter threw its worst at Detroit and still the teachers and parents came out—headed for a local warehouse on a Saturday in late January where 40,000 free books were made available to classrooms and kids across the city, thanks to a joint effort by AFT affiliates in Detroit, the nonprofit group First Book, and the AFT.

Detroit Federation of Teachers and Firstbook Event

Driving snow and arctic conditions did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm among AFT volunteers who helped organize the Jan. 25 distribution, or among the public school teachers and school staff who slogged to the warehouse—some with suitcases, flatbed carts and roller bins in tow—to claim dozens of new books for their students. That afternoon, the warehouse also opened its doors to parents so they could browse titles and begin to build home libraries for their children. The volunteers came from the Detroit Federation of Teachers, the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees and the Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals.

"The kids are going to love these books—they're very colorful, just excellent choices," said teacher Bina Smith, as she surveyed new books spanning every grade level, from books to read to babies to popular bestsellers for teens.

The event also received positive coverage in the local media.

"Making sure we provide the optimum opportunity for children to learn" lies at the heart of the event and the union's mission to help reclaim the promise of public education, Detroit Federation of Teachers President and AFT Vice President Keith Johnson explained to reporters who covered the distribution.

"We remember that feeling when we were young and got a brand-new book," said Edna Reaves, Detroit Federation of Teachers executive vice president. "We want to give that feeling to every child in the Detroit Public Schools."

With so many public libraries shuttered, the work couldn't be more important, said Ruby Newbold, president of the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees and an AFT vice president. "This is our goal: to make sure books—new books—get into the hands of our children." [Detroit Federation of Teachers, Mike Rose]

January 27, 2014