Those of us who teach in high-poverty districts typically have students whose reading levels are far below grade level. I created a nonprofit that can help fix this.
Since 2017, BookSmiles has distributed almost 1 million new and gently used books to kids in need throughout New Jersey and Philadelphia. These are students who lack the money for the commercial book fairs that visit their schools.
How do we keep our Cherry Hill warehouse stocked with books to give away? By diverting them from the big box thrifts and inspiring legions of book-lovers to organize book drives. Sometimes people use our hand-painted, designer collection bins. We roughly level the books, keeping only the top-quality stuff because every child deserves a superior library, not yellowed, torn hand me downs. Book ownership among children should not be dictated by ZIP code.
I’ve started my teaching career in Moorestown, and I’m finishing in Lindenwold—towns on opposite ends of New Jersey’s socioeconomic spectrum. Several years ago, I started thinking hard about equity. What could I do as a teacher to get all my students on or above reading level? And it hit me: flood my district with children’s books. I started to obsessively collect books in my garage and distribute them to kids and babies. I gave my idea a name: BookSmiles. Then I created a website and applied for nonprofit status.
Presenting at two NJEA Conventions was powerful, helping so much to promote our brand. Teachers and educational support professionals from around the state saw how a nominal donation could give them several hundred dollars’ worth of quality books. Nearly 1,000 NJEA members have either visited the BookSmiles Book Bank or distributed our books through our book fairs. Please visit our website, booksmiles.org, to help spread book-wealth.