In May of 2009, Books for Keeps founder Melaney Smith (BBA ’89) met an Alps Road Elementary second-grader who was disappointed that school was breaking for summer. Why? When school ended, so did her access to books.
Smith wanted to help, and learned that many of the student’s classmates were in a similar situation. Without books, the reading skills some of these second graders had developed during the school year could decline over the summer, a circumstance recognized by educators as “summer slide”.
“I thought, ‘why doesn’t somebody do something about this?’ And then I thought, ‘I am somebody,’” said Smith.
Research led her to Dr. Jennifer Graff, a professor at the University of Georgia College of Education who co-authored a study on the topic.
Adopting the methods used in the study, Smith started Books for Keeps’ primary program: Stop Summer Slide! This flagship initiative provides 12 books to every child in the elementary schools served by Books for Keeps. In 2015, Stop Summer Slide! was offered to students in ten elementary schools, eight in Athens elementary schools and one each in Atlanta and Warrenton.
At the end of each school year, Books for Keeps hosts mock book fairs where the children come to their respective schools’ media center and select the books they would most like to own.
“If we expect them to read at home during the summer with no encouragement from adults, they have to have something they like to read,” Smith said.
Volunteers help children find the books they want, and ask the students questions to align book-collection needs for the following year. All schools in the program have been designated as Title 1 schools, which means 90 to 100 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch, Smith said.
This month, her efforts were rewarded with at $10,000 grant from the L’Oreal Paris’ Women of Worth program. Now Smith is in the running for an additional $25,000 to be determined by public vote and awarded at a ceremony in New York on December 1.
Books for Keeps recently completed a plan to expand to all elementary Clarke County schools in Athens and at least five more in Atlanta.
“We don’t add a school until we have community support that we know will last,” she said. “Our expansion funds are seed money, but there has to be community support.”
She hopes exposure from the L’Oreal honor will help spread the word about Books for Keeps, particularly in Atlanta. And she hopes to meet and network with her fellow Women of Worth winners next month in New York.
If you would like to help, consider joining the Books for Keeps initiative by volunteering, donating books, offering a monetary gift, hosting a book drive, or spreading the word through social media and your daily personal interaction with others. Your contributions could make a difference in the life of a child.