Minneapolis partnership brings free books to students

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More than 70,000 books that will be given to Minneapolis students have been delivered to public schools as a result of a new project launched by the AFT and First Book, a national nonprofit organization that has distributed more than 90 million books to kids across the country. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers is the first local affiliate to participate in the partnership.

Leaders of the organizations involved in the project gathered with students, parents and teachers at Hmong International Academy on April 18 to present books to kids there, discuss the new partnership and join with two children's authors who read their works to children in the school media center.

First Book MinneapolisMFT president Lynn Nordgren speaks to students at Hmong International Academy, along with First Book CEO Kyle Zimmer. AFT photo.

In addition to the books requested through First Book by several teachers at the school, every student at Hmong International will receive two free books. First Book is also distributing half a million new books this week from a Minneapolis facility, 200,000 of which will go to local schools and programs.

"Members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers have jumped at the chance to be involved in this partnership with First Book," said MFT president Lynn Nordgren. "So far, more than 350 teachers have registered with First Book, and about 140 have requested books for their students.

"Teachers are committed to ensuring that all children have the learning resources they need, and of course books are first on that list," Nordgren said. "And books in the home are a huge factor in promoting literacy and more, instilling that great joy in learning and joy in life that books can bring. We want all children in our city to have the gift of that lifelong love of reading."

Among those joining Nordgren at Hmong International Academy this morning were First Book CEO and co-founder Kyle Zimmer, Minneapolis Public Schools superintendent Bernadeia Johnson and Education Minnesota (and AFT vice president) president Tom Dooher.

The event attracted local media coverage, including this TV report.

The First Book partnership with the MFT is one of several projects being developed with the AFT and its affiliates across the country. For example, the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers is giving free books to 2,200 students who are participating in a summer learning program; AFT Alabama is launching an "extreme home library makeover" campaign to help students rebuild their home libraries destroyed by recent tornadoes; and United Educators of San Francisco is working to register all eligible teachers and community programs for low-cost books through First Book.

"We're taking a stand with our friends at the AFT to make sure kids in Minnesota get the resources they need to thrive and succeed," said Zimmer. "Teachers, better than anyone, understand the impact that books have. By working together with teachers—in Minnesota and across the country—First Book is ensuring that kids have new books of their own.

Minneapolis First Book, Tom DooherEducation Minnesota president Tom Dooher reads to students as part of the First Book project launch. Photo by Janet Hostetter.

"Over the next two weeks alone, First Book will distribute over a million brand-new books to schools and programs serving children in need across the country," Zimmer said. "Half those books will be shipped from Minneapolis, and over 200,000 will go directly to local children, through the MFT and other community groups. Our efforts in Minneapolis could be a national model for how a community comes together to expand access to books for all children."

Minneapolis schools superintendent Johnson told those gathered at Hmong International that the book project will help kids throughout the city. "We are grateful for the collaboration of First Book, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and others in our community who are helping Minneapolis students gain access to high quality books," Johnson said. "These resources support the work that teachers, parents and others do each day to enhance student learning."

Education Minnesota president Dooher said teachers across the state are looking forward to being involved with First Book. "We think this will be a great opportunity to get books into the hands of kids all across Minnesota," he said. "Great things can happen when unions, school districts, community organizations and businesses work together. Education Minnesota is happy to work with our 70,000 members to support literacy and reading."

The MFT and First Book envision their partnership as a long-term relationship that will continue to put new, high-quality books into the hands of Minneapolis students for them to keep and take home. [AFT, Education Minnesota, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and First Book joint press release]

April 19, 2012