Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Fairies Land in St. Joseph

Dr. Kay Siebler, Associate Professor of English, says, "I’m a Fairie and I’m Proud."

Kay explains what drove her to start a book-buying program for children in St. Joseph:

A disproportionate number of children in St. Joseph live in poverty, about 50 percent. The connection between poverty and lack of success in school is well-documented. And new research has shown that early literacy skills (age 0-5) are a strong indicator of life-long literacy and school success.

All of that is just statistics. Here is the personal story. I live in a “transitional” (read: run down) area of St. Joseph. Ergo, my child entered the public school system at Humboldt Elementary where 90 percent of the children are on free- or reduced-lunch and the school did not met Annual Yearly Progress in test scores last year. Humboldt is the poorest Title I school in the district (Title I schools are the government designation for a school with at least 40 percent of the student population in poverty).

In Kindergarten, Zephaniah [Kay's son] – introduced to Scholastic Books in preschool – waited with jittery excitement for the book forms. August passed. No book forms. September passed. No book forms. I decided to order through his previous preschool teacher. When I told her about my surprise that the public school teachers weren’t sending home Scholastic book forms, she said, “Well, a lot of the Title I schools don’t send them home. Few in the class can afford to buy books and the teachers often feel, when a few do order books, the others who don’t get books feel left out.”


These children, hovering around the poverty line or decidedly under it, are the very population that most needs to have books, to have books in the home, to have literacy encouraged in the family.

I approached Zephaniah’s kindergarten teacher and suggested that if she would send home the Scholastic book forms to the class, I would commit to buying a book for every child in the class each month. That way, literacy is encouraged (each child gets a book to take home as their own), the parents of these children have the book forms in the event that they can occasionally buy a book, and – at the end of the academic year – each child will have a small library at home, a way to read to siblings, a way for parents or siblings to read to them, a way to increase literacy among a struggling population overwhelmed by poverty.

I called myself “The Book Fairie” – I preferred being an anonymous donor to the children and their families. I decided I would pitch the idea to my colleagues –and faculty in other departments – and The book Fairy Program took off.

Currently, there are several other Book Fairies who are providing books to two St. Joseph Title I schools. Book Fairies have a personal relationship with the teachers. Some volunteer (without tipping their hat that they are the Book Fairie) in the classrooms they sponsor. Others write a check every month and appreciate the updates the teacher emails about the classroom. The teachers are grateful; the children love the books; children have books at home to read and re-read. One teacher said, “You mean the Book Fairie sends money out of their own pocket each month so we can get books for the students? That is amazing!”

It takes so little: $25 a month from Sept-May. It can mean so much to a student and their family who are struggling with poverty and educational success. It would be wonderful to have Book Fairies for classrooms in all of St. Joseph’s Title I schools. Wings, tutu, and wand are optional. Be a Book Fairie!

To contact Kay in order to collect your wings, write to her at ksiebler@missouriwestern.edu

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