BYRON — Each student at Byron Elementary School will receive nine free books from Scholastic this year, one each month, thanks to an online campaign sparked by the school’s literacy coach, Tammy Streeter.
Approximately $3,600 was raised in four days in late July, according to Streeter, with donations coming from all across the state, as friends shared the fundraising effort via Facebook. The money will allow approximately 400 students, ranging from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, to receive a free book from Scholastic every month of the school year.
Streeter said the goal was to get books in the hands of elementary students.
“Out of all the kids in the classroom, maybe a third of them get books, and of those less than a third are avid readers,” Streeter said. “My thought is if I can get books in their hands and they’re not an avid reader or they don’t really like reading, maybe then they’ll get a book they like one month and fall into it and want to read and become an avid reader.”
This fall will be Streeter’s second year as the school’s literacy and math coach, as she works alongside teachers to implement new techniques and strategies for learning. Before making the switch, Streeter was a fifth grade teacher at the elementary for more than a decade.
On March 27, Streeter’s son Josh, 26, was killed in an automobile accident after his vehicle was struck by a distracted driver in South Carolina. In the wake of his death, Streeter discovered boxes upon boxes of books he had acquired through the years, and on the advice of her therapist, she decided to highlight one of her son’s passions by doing something positive.
“He had always loved reading, he was a very good reader,” Streeter said. “He started out in school reading and reading and reading. He was not what I would call the most outgoing kind of person, he was into video games a lot, that type of thing…He never wanted to read off of iPads, he always wanted books in his hands.”
Streeter said she remembers Josh often rushing off the bus with the latest Scholastic flyer, having already circled several books he wanted that she would then order for him. In working with students throughout the entire elementary school this past year, Streeter realized not all kids are as fortunate, as multiple students made comments about not having books at home.
“You just take for granted that everybody reads to their kid every night and they develop this vocabulary, it’s not the case,” Streeter said. “Children need to be introduced to books really early; not only does it help them have a joy for reading, but it builds their vocabulary, it helps them with writing. Writing and vocabulary, I think, are driven right out of reading.”
To bridge the gap, Streeter called out to friends and family on Facebook, asking people to donate $9 to sponsor a student at Byron Elementary, $1 for each month, which would provide the student with one free book from Scholastic for every month of the school year. In just four days, enough money was raised to ensure that every Byron Elementary student would receive free books. Streeter said she was shocked.
“I didn’t really show happiness because it’s kind of hard, I’m struggling with Josh, but it’s so awesome….think about this, kids that aren’t used to getting books are going to get a book. Can you picture the smiles on their faces? Now all of us get a book, that’s like 3,600 smiles total over the entire year in one small building. It’s really neat,” Streeter said.
“My main goal is I want a child who’s not into reading, who never gets books, to find a love for reading, and maybe it’ll be one of the nine books this year, maybe just one that sparks their interest and now they want to keep going,” she continued.
Streeter said her mailbox at Byron Elementary is currently overflowing, as checks made out to Scholastic pour in from all around the state. The first order of books will be placed in early September, she said.
“Each flyer has a book or two books that are dollar books, and the flyers go by grade, so the kids won’t really be able to pick their own book, they’ll pick between whatever Scholastic has picked,” Streeter said. “The idea is that if they are too little and can’t read it, their parents can read it to them, or if it’s a book they’re not really interested in, then they can exchange it for something else with somebody else.”
Streeter noted that students are going to get age appropriate material, as Scholastic flyers go by grade. Furthermore, by spending $400 a month through Scholastic, the school will earn additional free books, which will help replenish the school’s library collection.
Kathy Montini, a fifth grade English and social studies teacher at Byron Elementary, has been working with Streeter to update the school’s library for many years.
“The greatest benefit will be offering current material that’s out there, new authors that are more in tune with kids today, to kind of increase that interest in reading,” Montini said. “We want to have lifelong readers, we want to get kids to that point where they want to keep reading.”
Streeter said she plans to continue this fundraising efffort each year, and added that it’s important to expand kids’ horizons through reading.
“We need the kids to want to go into the library and have books that they’re interested in. Think about it, think about the topics nowadays…Byron is a small community. There are so many books out there that talk about diversity and equality, hot topics that kids want to talk about, especially fourth, fifth and sixth grade,” Streeter said. “Kids need to see what life is like, whether it’s abuse or drugs or racism, or whatever it is. These kids have real conversations about topics and I think maybe that’s what society needs. We need to have kids be compassionate and understand and communicate and see differences.”
As for what Josh would think about all of this?
“I think he would be so proud, because he loved books, he loved kids and he just loved people in general,” Streeter said. “I think he would want me to be happy, and this makes me really happy.”