Some area families cannot afford to buy books for their children. Even if they can, they cannot go to bookstores, which are closed during the stay-at-home order in effect through April for Houston and Harris County.
Libraries are not operating, either, and schools also are closed as the region hunkers down in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus strain.
Fortunately for the students at three local elementary schools, they’re getting some tangible literature to help them stay busy. The books they’re receiving are helping them learn, too.
The Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation recently donated 100,000 new children’s books to Houston ISD, which is distributing them this week to students at 50 of its elementary and middle school campuses. The area schools benefitting are Helms Elementary in the Heights, Highland Heights Elementary in Acres Homes and Katherine Smith Elementary near Mangum Manor, with students at those schools receiving two books apiece while supplies last.
“Our students usually take a lot of books from our classroom libraries and school library, so having books to read at home is always good,” Helms principal Lola Perejon-Lasheras said. “It keeps them connected with school life. Having a book in your hand connects you with literature and gives you so many opportunities.”
In a news release from HISD, the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation said it purchased the books in a partnership with publisher Scholastic – which provided some free books and waived expedited shipping fees – as well as Phillips 66 and the foundation’s Ladies for Literacy Guild. The foundation said the purpose of donating them is to “help bridge the learning gap while schools and libraries are closed across the city due to the coronavirus.”
HISD said about 75 percent of its 210,000 students are considered economically disadvantaged and qualify for the National School Lunch Program, which it said is “a strong indicator that books are a luxury that many of the families in our community cannot afford.” According to HISD’s campus demographic report for the 2019-20 school year, 63 percent of the students at Helms are economically disadvantaged, along with 92 percent of the students at Highland Heights and 93 percent of the students at Katherine Smith.
“The enormity and complexity of the challenges facing families right now are substantial and overwhelming to grasp,” Julie Baker Finck, president of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, said in the news release. “Providing books is a small, yet vital aspect of helping parents find meaningful ways to engage and support their child’s continued learning at home during widespread closures.”
The book distribution started at participating campuses on Thursday, and in a drive-through format in order to practice social distancing. At Helms, where Perejon-Lasheras personally handed out books while wearing gloves and a protective mask, students with last names that start with A-L picked up books Thursday, while M-Z students could pick them up Friday.
Along with delivering the donated books as well as printed curriculum documents that families can use while learning at home, Perejon-Lasheras said it was a good way for students and their teachers to reconnect. The principal said some families told her it also was a good excuse to take a “field trip” of sorts.
“They were excited to see us,” she said. “We miss them, and they miss us.”
A variety of books, catered to students in varying grade levels from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, are being distributed. They include Spanish-language books, which Perejon-Lasheras said are especially valuable to her students.
Helms is a dual language immersion school. Perejon-Lasheras said roughly half of her 489 students speak Spanish as a first language.
“It’s easier to find books in English and not in Spanish,” she said, “so I was really grateful to get all those books and share them with my community.”