Jersey City school to give away books to keep kids reading this summer

Email the author | Follow on Twitter on May 21, 2014 at 11:39 AM, updated May 21, 2014 at 12:03 PMBy Terrence T. McDonald | The Jersey Journal

If you’re in a Jersey City bodega this summer and see a basket of free books, thank School 22.
The pre-k through 5 school is embarking on a project school officials hope will keep kids reading throughout the summer. They want to place baskets of free books at delis, Laundromats, even the Grand Street McDonald’s – anywhere they think kids might grab one and start reading.
“Our goal is to put books where books normally are not,” said the school’s principal, Oscar Velez.
Velez, 38, said he visited a New York City school that implemented a similar program and decided to bring it to this side of the Hudson River. He has enlisted the help of Brittani Bunney, who was School 22’s “principal for a day” last month and asked Velez how she could help the Van Horne Street school.
Bunney, 27, who works for local developers the Silverman brothers, said she wants to “change the perception” of the city’s school district.
“Jersey City public schools have so much more potential than people realize,” she told The Jersey Journal.
School 22 is located in the heart of the inner city, and Velez said a lot of School 22’s families do not engage in reading for pleasure. It’s a hobby “taken for granted” in middle-class homes but “fundamentally lacking” in the homes where families struggle to make ends meet, he said.
“We’re trying to change the environment … so kids are seeing reading as more than just for a grade,” Velez said. “It becomes part of the culture we’re in.”
Reading is Fundamental, a literacy advocacy group, says there’s a “summer slide” for children who do not read over the summer. If their minds sit idle, they can lose more than two months of reading achievement, a problem that the group says is worse among students from low-income families.
Eighty percent of School 22 students are economically disadvantaged, and in the 2012-13 school year, standardized tests showed that only 36 percent of them were proficient in language arts and less than 50 percent read at grade level.
Districtwide, five of the seven grades tested in language arts scored less than 60 percent proficient.
Both Velez and Bunney said they are big readers themselves. Velez just finished Breaking Night, a 2010 memoir by Liz Murray, while Bunney is reading Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Goldfinch as part of a book club.
School 22’s book program kicks off on Wednesday, June 18 at 9:30 a.m. at Ercel Webb Park.
To donate or get involved, contact Bunney at [email protected], or call 201-238-0068, or contact guidance counselor Patty Acosta at [email protected], or call 201-915-6482.

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