SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—The American Federation of Teachers, Transportation Institute and First Book have launched BookWaves, a coalition of unions, U.S. shipping companies and non-profit organizations that have united to provide more than 100,000 free books to students and families during the COVID-19 crisis. This week, the first wave of 3,000 bilingual and Spanish STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) books are being distributed at a socially distant outdoor event at the Manuel A. Perez Residencial in San Juan, with more distributions to follow in the fall and winter across Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico.
BookWaves is supported by U.S.-based marine shipping companies Crowley, Matson, TOTE, the Seafarers International Union, Convoy, and local air and ground transportation companies that have donated their expertise and services to ship tens of thousands of books across land and sea to remote communities in need of books. The AFT, Transportation Institute and Pi Beta Phi Foundation provided financial support to secure books from First Book; and the AFT and Seafarers International Union helped with title selection and providing on-the-ground coordination of sorting and distribution.
“Hearing of the hard work the AFT and First Book have been doing over the years to bring millions of books to students in need inspired our organization to marshal the resources of the U.S.-flag maritime industry and our logistics partners to help Americans in far-flung communities that rely on our shipping services have better access to books and inspire a lifelong love of reading and learning,” said Rich Berkowitz, Transportation Institute’s vice president of Pacific Coast Operations.
“Every day through this pandemic, our educators are on the frontlines of engaging their students, often in a remote setting. As the current leadership in the White House and the Department of Education has surrendered to the virus, including failing to mitigate it by providing guidance or resources for a safe reopening of school buildings, most students are left with classrooms that are fully or partially online. We’re acutely aware of the chaos and inequities facing families as a result of this crisis, including the challenges distance learning can present,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “So we’re doing our part to help students and their families—regardless of their geography or demography—have what they need to learn. Our hope is that BookWaves will provide books to help them navigate this difficult time and prioritize one of the most fundamental things we can all do together: read.”
Crowley donated the shipping of 3,000 STEM books in Spanish, bilingual and English titles and is committed to shipping another 30,000 books to Puerto Rico. The Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico is spearheading the effort to distribute books, as well as partnering with the Seafarers International Union to create maritime collections in high schools to support career and technical education.
“This is a great initiative, which truly will have a positive impact for the students. A book in the hands of a child or young person is an opportunity for the development of language, comprehension, reading and their upbringing as a human being," said Elba L. Aponte Santos, president of the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico. "We are grateful for this collaboration to bring high-quality books, which are so important for students and teachers of Puerto Rico.”
“Working in partnership with the Transportation Institute, including Crowley and TOTE, as well as the teachers of our young students in Puerto Rico, we will create a pathway of knowledge that enables these students to learn, grow and seek out the career ladders that are offered in the maritime industry and other opportunities,” said Seafarers International Union San Juan Port Agent Amancio Crespo.
“Bringing more than 100,000 free books to students and families in need is never easy, but doing it during a worldwide pandemic is almost impossible,” said AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus. “We never could have gotten these books to kids without the generosity, tenacity and collaborative ‘can-do’ spirit of the U.S.-flagged shipping companies Crowley, Matson and TOTE as well as the Seafarers International Union members. Thank you so much for the essential work you do—day in, day out—to provide a stable and vital lifeline of resources to American communities and families.”
In Guam, more than 40,000 books have been delivered from the East Coast by Convoy and then shipped across the Pacific Ocean by Matson Navigation. Volunteers from the Guam Federation of Teachers and Seafarers International Union will distribute the books to pre-K through 12th-grade public school students and families as soon as island lockdown restrictions are relaxed.
“Our members are so excited to have so many and such great books to provide to our students, said GFT President Tim Fedenko. “We are eager to start handing out books as soon as possible to support student achievement and to help build the sense of community that can be hard to create while doing remote learning.”
Focusing on remote and rural communities in Alaska, nearly 40,000 books are going to be delivered in November with a focus on STEM and books with Indigenous characters, including Molly of Denali based on the popular PBS animated show.
BookWaves is working with Alaska Marine Lines, Alaska Communications, Northern Air Cargo, Ryanair, TOTE, AFT affiliates in Alaska, and Alaskan Indigenous organizations to deliver books to as many rural and remote communities as possible. According to Berkowitz, “the broader effort led to a special partnership between the Alaska fishing philanthropic organization AFIRM and Western Alaskan Community Development Quota Program villages to provide access to books for their local youth. Kids from Atka to Naknek to Diomede will have an opportunity to select their own high-quality books.”
Along with the books, the AFT is providing bookplates for kids to write their names inside their books to give them a sense of ownership and pride. In Puerto Rico, materials are in Spanish and English; in Guam, bilingual English-Chamorro bookmarks include reading tips for parents on how to help their children become strong readers; and blank journals will be provided for students in Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico so students have an opportunity to express themselves and write their own stories.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an existing crisis in education, especially for children in poverty. We cannot allow them to slide further behind while they are isolated without books and educational resources—essentially locked out of learning,” said Kyle Zimmer, president, CEO and co-founder of First Book. “We are so grateful that the BookWaves coalition understands the gravity of this problem and is working with us to help the kids in greatest need. This innovative collaboration is helping to engage some of our country’s most vulnerable children at a time when they need that support the most.”