Efforts are paying off in Wake County to make sure thousands of children from low-income communities get the books they need to help them develop a love for reading.
Research shows that students at the 10 Wake County elementary schools who get 10 books to read through the annual WAKE Up and Read book drive are forgetting less over the summer. The literacy program’s success is being recognized as Wake County was named among 27 national finalists for the All-America City award.
“We know we’re making a difference,” said Carolyn Merrifield of WAKE Up and Read, formed in 2012 by the Wake County school system in partnership with several community groups to promote childhood literacy.
The effects of the program were even more apparent Thursday at East Garner Elementary School as students picked through books collected this year. They looked for books such as the popular “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and “Captain Underpants” series.
“It’s exciting because last year we got all these books and I’ve read lots of them,” said Shytel Major, 9 a third-grade student. “We don’t have any books at home so I came here to get some books.”
Shytel’s mother, Jonika, said the books will help the students “keep their brains sharp.”
“It’s a nice thing they’re doing to give them books to read during the summer,” said Jonika Major, who volunteers regularly at East Garner.
Books will also be distributed to Barwell Road, Brentwood, Fox Road and Walnut Creek in Raleigh; Creech Road and Smith in Garner; Hodge Road in Knightdale; Lincoln Heights in Fuquay-Varina and Wakelon in Zebulon.
Books will also go to community centers and childcare facilities near the 10 elementary schools to try to saturate the community with reading material.
Experts agree it’s important to get children reading at a young age. A 2011 national study found that one in six third-grade students who isn’t proficient in reading doesn’t graduate from high school on time.
Even in an age of digital books, Merrifield said there’s still something special about children getting their hands on physical books.
“For a lot of these younger kids especially, it’s that moment of spending time with mom and dad reading a story together,” Merrfield said. “So it’s bedtime, sitting on a lap. It’s really having a love for reading that comes with having that physical book in your hand.”
The book drive has focused on children from low-income communities whose parents might not be able to afford to buy books.
The drive has grown from 67,000 books collected in the first year in 2014 to 112,427 books, and rising, this year.
This will be the fourth year that some students have received books. Latonia McCain, East Garner’s media specialist, said students now eagerly ask her each year when they’ll be able to pick their next set of 10 books.
Carmen Graf, the principal of East Garner, said the book drive has been a wonderful partnership that’s having a real impact on students’ lives.
“Children who read more typically do better at school,” Graf said. “Their comprehension is better.
“They’re excited about learning, and when you have different options for reading material, both at school and at home, they’re more likely to read a diverse selection of materials.”
How to donate books
WAKE Up and Read collects books all throughout the year to distribute to children. For more information, go to wakeupandread.org or call 919-694-8755.