Books for Keeps (BFK) commits to expand its flagship program, Stop Summer Slide!, from serving 11 elementary schools primarily in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia to serving 25 elementary schools annually in Athens, Atlanta, and additional rural Georgia counties within three years. BFK will distribute 315,000 books over this three-year period.
As of spring 2016, Books for Keeps was giving away more than 50,000 books each year to roughly 4,300 children annually. By the end of this three-year expansion, BFK will donate approximately 134,000 books each spring to 11,000 children throughout Georgia.
BFK will serve all 7,200 children in grades K through five enrolled in an Athens public school by the end of this three-year period. In that district, 92 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch through the National School Lunch program. All schools targeted for service outside Athens will meet a threshold of 90 percent or more free or reduced-price lunch.
Through this expansion, BFK will reach a total of 14,400 unique students over the three-year period. The total number of students served assumes a 20 percent turnover in service schools, accounting for matriculation out of schools by rising middle-schoolers as well as transfers into schools by new students.
Additionally, Books for Keeps and Scholastic are piloting a new model for providing the books to students at schools outside BFKs core service area of Athens. Book inventory and delivery are handled entirely through Scholastic, with Books for Keeps curating the selection and running the fair with its signature 12-books-per-child model. All funding and volunteer staffing is handled by Books for Keeps, creating a completely free, accessible book fair.
As BFK expands its geographic reach over the next three years, the organization will also work with Scholastic to scale this model to eight new schools in order to reach more students, particularly outside BFKs primary service area of Athens. This will pair Scholastics economies of scale in warehousing and logistics with Books for Keeps deep knowledge about how to engage underserved and reluctant readers.
To undergird these efforts, Books for Keeps is also launching quarterly family engagement sessions in its service areas. The sessions will model interactive reading to engage both parents and children.
Additionally, the interactive reading sessions will provide information about how families can sign up for free book and e-book services beyond what is offered by Books for Keeps, such as the Open e-Books app available through First Book.
For families with school-aged children, the trainings will focus on strategies to continue incorporating reading into family life even after a child has learned to read to himself or herself. Parents will receive tip sheets on how to help children work through difficult words, as well as to help process themes and character development skills needed to move beyond mere reading and into the critical skill of reading comprehension.
Books for Keeps is working with researchers at the University of Georgia to develop an ongoing evaluation plan. The evaluation will use anonymized, student-level data provided by partner school districts to uncover quantitative metrics on the effectiveness of the program. Researchers are also helping formulate qualitative methods that will include student and parent interviews and textual analyses of student thank-you letters.
Additionally, Books for Keeps continues to collect qualitative data through student exit surveys that informs the organizations book acquisition process.
Summer 2016: Develop program for quarterly family interactive reading sessions to provide training, tip sheets, and information about other community resources providing books and supporting literacy. For families with young children, the sessions will focus on basic reading strategies and how to make reading together fun particularly for toddlers with short attention spans. Sessions will focus on the importance of talking, singing, and playing together for 15 minutes a day to reduce the word gap observed between low-income children and their middle- and upper-income peers.
Fall 2016: Implement first of BFKs quarterly literacy family engagement sessions at schools, daycare centers, and community centers. Conduct quarterly at rolling locations within service area (fall, winter, spring, summer). The first sessions will take place in Athens as the family literacy sessions are refined. BFK will rotate locations to reach families in their communities, focusing on small groups.
Winter 2017: Implement the second family literacy session in an Athens service site. All families will be provided with tip sheets containing simple, age-appropriate suggestions and guidelines for making reading at home fun and valued.
Spring 2017: Expand Stop Summer Slide! to 1,960 students in four elementary schools two in Athens (Cleveland Road and Whitehead Road elementary schools), one in Atlanta (Benteen Elementary School), and one in Elbert County (Elbert County Primary School). Conduct family literacy session at one service site utilizing learnings from prior sessions.
Summer 2017: Introduce family literacy sessions in Atlanta and Elberton no later than this quarter, holding such a program at least once per year in Atlanta and Elbert County service sites.
Fall 2017: Conduct family literacy session at one service site.
Winter 2018: Implement the second family literacy session in an Athens service site.
Spring 2018: Expand Stop Summer Slide! to 2,400 students in five elementary schools two in Athens (Barrow and Whit Davis Elementary schools), two in Atlanta (to be selected with the assistance of Atlanta Public Schools), and one in Elbert County (Elbert County Elementary School). Conduct family literacy session at one service site.
Summer 2018: Conduct family literacy session at one service site.
Fall 2018: Conduct family literacy session at another service site.
Winter 2018: Conduct family literacy session at another service site.
Spring 2019: Expand Stop Summer Slide! to 2,380 students in five elementary schools two in Athens (Chase Street and Timothy Road elementary schools), two in Atlanta (to be selected with the assistance of Atlanta Public Schools), and one in rural Georgia (to be decided). Conduct family literacy session at another service site.
Lack of access to books is a basic problem with far-reaching consequences. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, only 46 percent of Georgias third graders are proficient in reading. In Books for Keeps (BFK) primary service area of Athens, that number is a mere 35 percent. That figure is a major improvement over 2010 the year before Books for Keeps founding when only 27 percent of Athens third-graders were reading on grade level. Athens-Clarke County has been recognized by the state of Georgia as having made the most significant strides to close the achievement gap due in part to the work of Books for Keeps and its partners.
Among the communities currently served by BFK, the third-grade reading proficiency rate ranges from 28 percent to 55 percent. The child poverty rate in these communities ranges from 25 percent to 43 percent compared to the Georgia poverty rate of 26 percent.
Children with limited access to educational supports outside of school are vulnerable to the loss of educational attainment, referred to as summer slide, in which students fall behind their peers during summer. Children from low-income families are disproportionately affected children from minority communities even more so.
According to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, by middle school a two- to three-year achievement gap will open between children who read during summer and those who do not. Those same children who fall behind due to summer slide become four times less likely to graduate high school and face high rates of incarceration and joblessness.
Books for Keeps primary program, Stop Summer Slide!, is a research-based effort to help children maintain reading skills during summer through a simple, powerful act: invite students to choose 12 books each to keep every year.
Each year in each elementary school served, every child selects from a wide variety of high-interest, popular titles. All books are new or like-new, and are identified for purchase by BFK with the help of student exit surveys. This program side-steps traditional problems of access including book costs, transportation to libraries, and lack of internet connectivity simply by making exciting books available to the students who need them most.
A three-year study by reading researcher Dr. Richard Allington found that allowing economically-disadvantaged children to choose and keep 12 high-interest, popular books at the beginning of summer had an impact on reading achievement statistically similar to attending summer school. BFK worked with a co-author of the study to identify key aspects of the successful model and refines the program annually.
Books for Keeps has a demonstrated track record, a refined process, and a book selection described by media specialists as curated. BFK also has crucial partnerships with Scholastic and First Book, which make books available to BFK at special pricing.
By inviting students to pick the books they want and asking for their feedback, Books for Keeps shows children that their desires are valued. BFK works with partner school districts and fellow nonprofits to create the culture of literacy and supportive environment necessary at school and at home for books to have maximum impact.
Books for Keeps is seeking the financial resources to make this commitment possible, particularly commitments for ongoing or multi-year funding that will ensure the organizations sustained service to both school and community. The organization has a strong slate of implementing partners but is actively seeking additional partners, especially in the area of book acquisition.
Books are the single largest expense to the organization, making up 53 percent of the expenses necessary about $840,000 over three years to satisfy this commitment. Partnerships with publishers, negotiated within the organizations traditional $2- to $3-per-book average cost, are critical to keeping those costs low. Administrative salaries and warehousing costs are BFKs next largest expenses after books.
The organization is furthermore seeking media support, particularly in the Atlanta market, where its footprint is smaller and its brand is relatively unknown. As the organization has raised its profile in its home community of Athens, Georgia, support for the organization by the community has increased exponentially.
BFK is further seeking help in the area of data evaluation. While the organization has access to raw, student-level data from partner school districts, it lacks the in-house expertise to run a thorough, statistically sound analysis of that data that uncovers both correlation and causality. The organization has budgeted $30,000 over the three-year period to complete high-quality, academic-level evaluations of the program.
Lastly, the organization is seeking best practice information particularly as it moves into the area of family engagement programming.
Books for Keeps can officer its service as an implementing partner with a well-developed model and a proven track record of building relationships with schools and publishers. The organization has defined processes in place for gathering student feedback, and is developing an ongoing evaluation plan to monitor the progress of efforts.
Additionally, Books for Keeps can offer best practice information based on what the organization has learned across five years and nearly 250,000 books given away. Some areas of expertise: developing partnerships with publishers and book wholesalers, soliciting and incorporating student feedback, engaging the community and securing buy-in from families, scaling up from a grassroots, volunteer-led program into a fully professionalized nonprofit.