Story and photos by Shana Siren Kempton
It’s lunch time at Martin City Elementary School. The cafeteria is full of students, middle-schoolers walk through the halls in large, towering groups to get to their next class. Other students are engaged in learning throughout the building.
In the library, a class of eager fifth-graders takes 30 minutes to carefully select brand new books – not to borrow, but to keep. With a blue book bag in hand that says “Be a Reading Champion,” and “Let’s Read,” each student examines the chapter books, graphic novels, activity books, and nonfiction tomes, contemplating their final selection of five books each.
These books — provided by the literacy program Cover to Cover — help sustain their reading appetite throughout the summer and beyond. Cover to Cover will give over one thousand books to 1600 students in the Grandview C-4 School District this year.
“When I get bored at home, I read my books,” fifth-grader and adventure book connoisseur Corey Brown said.
Now in its sixth year of operation, Cover to Cover provides ten books to each student in kindergarten through third grades, seven books to preschoolers, and five books to those in fourth and fifth grades.
Since it began in 2017, Cover to Cover has added at least one participating school per year, popping up each spring in the school libraries through the work of about one hundred volunteers. The group now serves all five elementary schools as well as Highgrove Early Childhood Center in the Grandview C-4 School District.
The idea for Cover to Cover came to Mary Silvestri after observing the behavior of the first-graders in a class taught by her daughter at Butcher-Greene Elementary.
When choosing a prize, the children most often picked a book over a toy or candy.
“I noticed that these kids were hungry for books,” Silvestri said.
A sugar high lasts but minutes while a love for reading lasts a lifetime. She started bringing in more books for the kids and soon wrote a proposal to receive a stipend from Grandview Education Foundation to give ten books to every child in attendance.
The hidden pharmacist within Silvestri brought research and data to prove that books self-selected by kids would more likely be read and that those who read over the summer would have higher retention rates.
As soon as the proposal was heard, the full amount of $3,000 was granted without question. After all, who can argue with providing books to children?
Silvestri purchases books at a discount through national programs such as First Book and the Scholastic Literacy Partnership, while local sponsors and each participating school helps supplement the cost. She purchases high interest, current books for all reading levels.
“They’re picking things that excite them so even if they can’t actually read the books, someone in their house reads it to them,” Silvestri said. “Each year they get 10 more books, so you can imagine what their home libraries look like after a few years.”
With their noses in their new books, the fifth-graders file out of the library as another class full of eager readers lines up for their turn to choose what will become part of their summer adventure as they develop their reading identities and their love of reading.
Cover to Cover provides each participating school with a liaison who volunteers throughout the year in the Grandview Education Foundation. Silvestri notes that there is still a need for volunteers each May to help with book distribution. Interested individuals can contact Silvestri at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.