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Triangle literacy organizations help students adjust to online learning

Volunteers for Book Harvest load food and books into cars to be delivered to families across Durham in a collaborative effort with the Durham Public Schools Foundation and Durham FEAST.

Several months into the pandemic, child literacy organizations in the Triangle are still working to provide resources even as the school year starts.

Book Harvest is a Durham-based nonprofit organization that provides free books and literacy resources to families primarily in the Durham area.

Ginger Young, founder and executive director of Book Harvest, said the premature end of last school year combined with the psychological stressors of isolation and uncertainty made the pre-existing risk of summer learning loss even greater.

"Students were seeing their school year change profoundly in that moment, and we also knew it was quite likely they would not be in school as early as this fall, which meant they were looking at a runway from April through August with no conventional classroom experience," Young said.

In March, Book Harvest set a goal of donating 75,000 books to children in the Durham area by the end of August. Book Harvest announced on Sept. 1 it had surpassed its goal by donating 83,881 books in that time frame. The organization averaged 548 book donations per day.

"It absolutely astounds me how generous our community has been," Young said. "We are still emptying that book bin in front of our office multiple times a day."

Since the founding of Book Harvest in 2011, the organization has provided more than 1.3 million books to children across the state. Young said Book Harvest may have benefited this summer from people being stuck at home and cleaning off their bookshelves.  

In previous years, Book Harvest distributed books through schools or informal learning sites, such as laundromats, barber shops and doctors offices. Young said now they use two new methods of book distribution: contactless pickup sites and partnerships with free food delivery programs, such as PORCH. 

Young said Book Harvest was founded on the assumption that access to books is one of the simplest and most effective ways to increase child literacy and reduce the achievement gap. 

David Dickinson, a professor at Vanderbilt University, said access to reading materials corresponds to improved educational outcomes.

"What we have discovered is that early language development is very predictive of later language development," Dickinson said.

He said one of the greatest predictors of academic achievement is whether books are read aloud to children from a young age.

Like Book Harvest, child literacy organizations in Chapel Hill and Carrboro have adapted as well.

Jenny Walters is the program manager for School Reading Partners, a Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools initiative where volunteers read with students. 

"Since CHCCS is completely remote for at least the first semester, all School Reading Partners sessions will have to be done virtually," Walters said in an email. "Our program uses books in bags with question cards that help facilitate a conversation about books."

Walters said it is also important for the community to support teachers whenever possible — whether by donating to the Public School Foundation, volunteering or advocating for education funding to state and local governments.  

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, educators and child literacy advocates will keep confronting challenges.  

“Now, more than ever, it is our job — it is our imperative — to keep learning alive,” Young said.


@DTHCityState | 

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