NYSUT steps up to First Book challenge

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Once upon a time (April 12, to be exact), New York State United Teachers president Richard Iannuzzi invited educators attending the state federation's representative assembly to help write a new chapter in their students' lives by providing kids from low-income families a book they can take home and keep.

Thanks to a new partnership with the AFT and First Book, NYSUT members can receive new books at little or no cost for students through age 18 in schools that are Title I or Title I-eligible. Iannuzzi, who is also an AFT vice president, says he hopes to have 50,000 NYSUT members register with First Book over the coming year.

What will educators receive? Boxes of brand-new, colorful books, with spines ready to crackle when opened. First Book has stories kids clamor for and books that feature characters and cultures not always abundantly represented in children's literature. More than 4,000 titles are available—including poetry, plays, classics and counting books as well as young-adult releases, and other titles can be requested.

"We believe people closest to the kids know what gets kids most excited," says Kyle Zimmer, president and founder of the nonprofit First Book, which provides books to schools and organizations that serve low-income families. "We give you the tools to do the magic you do."

NYSUT locals in Albany, Buffalo, Central Islip, Freeport and Schenectady (where many students do not own books) already are partnering with First Book, which also is donating books to educators in areas affected by Superstorm Sandy.

"Families value having books, but don't have the opportunity to get them," says Juliet Benaquisto, president of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers. Many students' families in the district struggle financially, she says, and some schools lack libraries and librarians. [NYSUT]

April 23, 2013