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District receives $750,000 from DNC to purchase new books for schools

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Elementary schools across Philadelphia will soon see new books in their classrooms, thanks to a $750,000 donation from the Philadelphia Host Committee for the 2016 Democratic National Convention to the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia.

“This will have a long-lasting impact on improving literacy for our youngest students. It will specifically provide 80,000 new books for 150 kindergarten through 3rd-grade classrooms across Philadelphia,” said Superintendent William Hite.

The donation will support the Right Books Campaign, which was launched in November 2015 and works to improve literacy rates for Philadelphia students in kindergarten through 3rd grade. The initiative’s goal is to have all Philadelphia students reading at grade level by the time they begin 4th grade.

The campaign provides leveled libraries to individual classrooms, with specially curated books packaged by reading level and in accordance with various learning styles. Teachers who receive these books also complete literacy training for the grade level that they teach, and each school receives literacy specialists to work alongside students.

“We use our books every day in the classroom, and it would be something that the kids would be able to interact with, share, and read independently,” said Jamie Ott, a 3rd-grade teacher at James R. Ludlow Elementary School, where the announcement was made.

The Right Books Campaign set a $3.5 million fundraising goal in order to implement libraries in all kindergarten through 3rd-grade classrooms in Philadelphia by the end of the next school year. So far, 93 schools have benefited from the initiative, a number that represents 1,209 classrooms and nearly 300,000 books.

“Students cannot succeed in any aspect of school if they cannot read well. The Right Books Campaign is the way that we ensure our children have the resources necessary to accomplish this,” said Sheldon Bonovitz, chairman of the board of the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia.

“Thanks to the host committee, our fund has raised $2.8 million. We need just $700,000 to reach our goal of $3.5 million,” said Bonovitz.

The host committee raised $25 million, in addition to the $60 million required to run the convention, to benefit the city of Philadelphia through various initiatives. The surplus from these funds was used to make the donation to the Right Books Campaign.

“We hoped that we would leave something behind that would have lasting impact,” said Ed Rendell, former governor and chair of the host committee.

Ott’s 3rd-grade class was on hand at the announcement to accept the giant check on behalf of the host committee.

“We get to do independent reading, but sometimes we do it with partners,” said Makiyah Ray, who said she prefers chapter books.

Her desk partner, Carlos Perez, said they read “mostly fiction” during independent reading time.

Mayor Kenney pointed out the importance of providing students with quality resources. According to the Right Books Campaign, half of 8-year-olds in Philadelphia public schools do not read at grade level.

“While book donations are great, the books received may not be appropriate for helping students catch up to their peers and the basic reading-level requirements. With this donation, the School District will be able to provide materials that have been proven to help in this regard,” said Kenney.

The host committee has already donated more than 550 pieces of tech equipment, valued at more than $400,000, as well as office supplies to the District. This latest donation reflects the importance that Rendell placed on “engag[ing] the people of Philadelphia, including the children” in the convention’s impact on the city.

“If we can get our kids in pre-K and give them a quality educational experience, and then have this program take them from kindergarten through 3rd grade, I think we’ll see a day when almost all Philadelphia kids will be reading at grade level,” Rendell said.