Education

Wake County book drive helps low-income students to read

Volunteers sort through some of the over 114,000 books that were collected as part of this year's WAKE Up and Read book drive at a vacant store in the Cary Towne Center on April 9, 2015. Organizers exceeded their goal of collecting 100,000 children's books to give to students at nine high-poverty Wake County elementary schools and community centers near those schools.
Volunteers sort through some of the over 114,000 books that were collected as part of this year's WAKE Up and Read book drive at a vacant store in the Cary Towne Center on April 9, 2015. Organizers exceeded their goal of collecting 100,000 children's books to give to students at nine high-poverty Wake County elementary schools and community centers near those schools. cseward@newsobserver.com

Thousands of low-income Wake County elementary school students are depending on the community to step up during the next month to donate books for them to read over the summer.

The 2016 WAKE Up and Read Book Drive kicks off at 2 p.m. Saturday at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. Organizers hope to collect 110,000 children’s books by the end of February. The book drive comes amid a push locally and nationally 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.

“A lot of folks are starting to realize the importance of early education and getting kids on the right track,” said Carolyn Merrifield of WAKE Up and Read, formed in 2012 by the Wake County school system in partnership with several community groups. “We’re hopeful the enthusiasm will continue.”

The book drive helps schools with high percentages of students receiving federally subsidized lunches. These students on average fare worse on exams than their affluent classmates.

Once this year’s drive is over, 10 elementary schools will get books: Barwell Road, Brentwood, Fox Road and Walnut Creek in Raleigh; Creech Road, East Garner and Smith in Garner; Hodge Road in Knightdale; Lincoln Heights Elementary in Fuquay-Varina and Wakelon Elementary in Zebulon.

The goal is to collect enough books to give 10 to each student. Students at many of those schools have been getting 10 books a year from WAKE Up and Read since the first book drive in 2014.

“We have many, many children at these schools who had zero books at home,” said Sherri Miller, the Wake County school system’s literacy director. “This was their first set of 10 books. We have made a concerted effort to stay with these schools.”

Organizers want the students to build up a home library so that they’ll have material to read over the summer to combat summer learning loss when schools are closed. Low-income families are less likely to be able to afford to buy children’s books.

All the schools are holding family literacy nights where parents are given literacy tips and where every member of the family can pick up a book. In addition, books will be given to 10 community centers and at least 20 child-care centers located near those schools.

“We want to get books in the hands of kids where they’re learning the love of reading and where parents can read to them,” Miller said.

Nine of the schools that will get books are part of Wake’s Elementary Support Model program, which provides extra resources to schools with low test scores. School leaders are considering whether to put those schools on a year-round calendar in the 2016-17 or 2017-18 school years as a way to try to raise student achievement.

Organizers are looking for new or gently used books for children from birth up to age 12. Merrifield said some of the books that were donated last year weren’t usable because of their condition or they weren’t age appropriate.

Examples of books that are needed are board books, chapter books, early readers, the Boxcar Children series, Curious George books and classics like “Charlotte’s Web, according to Merrifield.

Merrifield said they’re also looking for Spanish and bilingual books because of the large number of Spanish-speaking families at the 10 schools.

Collection sites will be located around the county including Marbles Kids Museum at 201 E. Hargett St. in Raleigh, the Wake Education Partnership at 706 Hillsborough St. in Raleigh, the school system’s headquarters at 5625 Dillard Drive in Cary and at many schools.

Miller said they need volunteers to collect books as well as to sort them, unpack them at the schools and help students pick which ones to take.

The book drive has grown each year. In 2014, 67,000 books were collected in the first drive, far more than the goal of 40,000 books. Last year, 115,000 books came in when the goal was raised to 100,000 books.

“In 2014 we weren’t sure we could hit 40,000 books collected,” Merrifield said. “We’re so pleased and surprised that there is so much enthusiasm for the book drive in Wake County. It’s already gotten bigger than we thought it would be.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

How to donate books

The 2016 WAKE Up and Read Book Drive kicks off at 2 p.m. Saturday at Quail Ridge Books, 3522 Wade Ave. in Raleigh. Event highlights include story time with special celebrity readers, face painting, art activities and appearances by Ruben the WAKE Up and Read Rooster and Disney Princesses. Quail Ridge is offering a 20 percent discount on books purchased for donation to the book drive.

Go to wakeupandread.org for more information on the book drive, including a map showing sites where books can be dropped off, how to volunteer and tips on how parents can promote literacy to their children.

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