Editorial: Instigators’ efforts in windfall of books much appreciated

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home School District’s classified employees deserve a big shout-out for their work in bringing a FirstBook shipment of more than 40,000 books to Sweet Home two weekends ago.

They gathered some 2,000 signatures and email addresses from people around the community. The result? FirstBook shipped more than 40,000 books to Sweet Home.

The list of folks who deserve thanks for this is long. Lisa Gourley and Velma Canfield ran point on the project. They were supported by their union, and when the books showed up, they got more support, very visibly, from the School District and more than 170 volunteers.

Several local businesses provided food, and others provided items and gift certificates to be used as door prizes for those many volunteers.

The books are circulating throughout the community through libraries and other programs and directly through the hands of Sweet Home’s children.

Those who gave their signatures and emails to the cause were invited to bring their children to collect up to 20 books.

My children took advantage of it, collecting books on Marvel superheroes and pieces of the Percy Jackson series, among a wide variety of interesting finds.

One loves to read and is quickly buzzing through these newfound treasures. The other is at least a little bit enticed by all of this potential recreational reading.

This has been one of the most interesting projects to help improve the Sweet Home community, which thanks to the near destruction of its primary purpose for existing, is facing ever-increasing threats related to poverty, including homelessness, drug use and substandard academic performance.

This is a great step to help fight those effects, to aid teachers and parents as they fight factors that make student achievement more difficult.

A number of factors can impair their chances for success, and among them is poor access to reading materials. According to the Children’s Literacy Foundation, based on a report in 2006, 61 percent of low-income children have no age-appropriate books in their homes, which contributes to illiteracy.

Some 68 percent of American fourth-graders read below what is considered a proficient level, and 82 percent of those are from low-income families.

Among those who reach adulthood with the lowest level of literacy, 43 percent live in poverty, while among those with strong literacy, just 4 percent live in poverty.

According to the American Library Association, students who read independently become better readers and score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas. They have greater content knowledge than those who do not.

Even small amounts of independent time in storybooks increases primary and elementary students’ reading comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, understanding of grammar and knowledge of the world.

That’s why books about Marvel superheroes or fantasy novels are so important. Children want to read them. They’re fun, and the best part of the fun is they learn. They need to read – just about anything they can get their hands on.

Children need to learn to hate not having something to read while they wait at the dentist’s office or when they cannot go outside. The best way to do that is to shove interesting books, stories they cannot resist, into their hands.

The small number of Marvel superhero movies, just a couple of hours long, will never tell enough stories to satiate the hunger for adventure present in a 7-year-old boy. But books can. They’re produced far more prolifically, providing many hundreds or thousands of hours of new stories.

But to access those stories, children must develop their academic skills in a way that a film never will. It can make them better students, who will achieve much more than relying on the old one-eyed monster or the big screen to entertain them.

Today, thanks to the local chapter of the Oregon School Employees Association and thanks to the volunteers, many of whom were children, books should be filtering into homes throughout the district.

As an aside, with the exception of public facilities and possibly some staff time, this project is a shining example of how to get things done without government “support.” It could have been done without any public agency involvement, if necessary, and is something we should all remember as we ponder our children’s future.

Solving problems privately and voluntarily is more efficient (in the economics sense of the word) than relying on bureaucrats and politicians.

Instead of benefiting one interest group or another at the expense of and against the will of other constituents and interest groups, generating appropriate and righteous anger, it generates real gratitude.

Great job, and many, many thanks to each and everyone of you who have voluntarily contributed to the well-being of my own and the many other needy children of my community.