Students were in a festive mood at Milbrook Elementary School. Not for recess, not for a party, but for a book fair.
And this wasn’t an average book fair. Students in first through fifth grades were able to choose three books to take home for free. Those with younger siblings could grab two more books if they promised to read with them.
The April 9 book fair, in its second year, was run by Bookworms, a reading program of Jewish Volunteer Connection, in conjunction with second-grade teacher Laurie Rosenberg.
“We are a Title I school, so our kids don’t have all the resources at home,” said Rosenberg, the school’s Bookworms coordinator.
As provided for by the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was passed in 1965, the Title I designation is given to economically disadvantaged schools to provide them with extra resources.
According to Rosenberg, who, after taking over from reading teacher Jenny Raivel, was the program’s coordinator last year as well, the students “are so excited to be able to get books for free.”
Bookworms volunteers, who have been active at the school for four years, collected more than 1,200 books for this year’s fair, doubling last year’s number. There were books by Dr. Seuss and J.K. Rowling, as well as volumes from the ever-popular Nancy Drew series.
“A lot of these children have immigrant parents who don’t speak English at home, so they can’t help them with their homework,” said volunteer Sherry Billig, adding that many students likewise don’t have books at home. “The majority of students at Milbrook qualify for free breakfast and lunch, and many are being raised in single-family or grandparent-guardian situations.”
Billig and other volunteers read to eight first-grade and eight second-grade classes at the school once a month; she said the school and its community are extremely supportive of the program. She is hoping to set up a partnership with the McDonogh School nearby in which students would fulfill their service learning hours by tutoring Milbrook students.
The kids at Millbrook love the volunteers, said Billig, and will sit on their laps, play with their jewelry or check out their nail polish.
“The kids get so excited as soon as they hear us coming in,” she said. “They say, ‘The Bookworms are here! The Bookworms are here!’”
At the book fair, students picked over donated books that volunteers cleaned and categorized. Fourth-grader Myles Johnson couldn’t wait to finish his lunch and pick his books out.
“I like how they’re free and if kids want to read at home, they can have books,” he said, adding that his favorite books are adventure books and books about basketball.
Second-grader Erin Bess picked her books, including “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody: Double Trouble” based on a Disney Channel show.
“You get it for free!” she said as she waited to label her books.
Assistant principal Kim O’Connor was all smiles as she watched students rush into the rooms filled with books.
“It’s a remarkable program,” she said of Bookworms. “They’re a very generous group of women.”
Billig has a team of 32 volunteers and dispatches 16 of them on each monthly visit so each class has a volunteer to read to them.
Annette Ingerman, a second-year Bookworm and former teacher, was ecstatic to see student after student walking out with their bundles.
“The last time I read, I was walking out of the classroom and one of the boys gave me the biggest hug,” she said. “I walk out with my heart warmed from all of this.”
The book fair got a boost this year from Zach Charapp, Billig’s nephew, who chose the fair as his bar mitzvah service project. Through family, friends and his school, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, the seventh-grader collected about 150 books. The donated books, which included several from Charapp’s collection, were used as center pieces at his bar mitzvah reception.
“I like to give away stuff,” he said. “I didn’t need them and wanted to give them to people that needed them.”
Books were also collected by JVC staff members who held birthday parties for their kids and asked adults to bring a book to donate; another Bookworm volunteer who had a Christmas party asked guests to bring books instead of wine.
“It takes a village to raise a child, and this community has certainly come together to support this very important project,” said Billig.