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The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as that every child should be given the wish to learn.
- John Lubbock

Enthusiasm stacks up in Carson school’s book drive

October 3, 2010

By Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times

A nonprofit group teams with students, parents and Canadian children’s authors to bring thousands of desperately needed books to the two small libraries at Ralph Bunche Elementary School.

The enthusiasm speaks volumes
Calleigh Tanner, 4, of Compton stamps books at Access Books’ “Air
Lift to L.A.” book drive at Ralph Bunche Elementary School in Carson.

Excited chatter filled the auditorium of Carson’s Ralph Bunche Elementary School on Saturday as dozens of children flipped excitedly through piles of books before stamping and stacking them for catalog in the school’s two small libraries.

“I came to help the school, and other people … and they said I can take a book I like home,” said 8-year-old fourth-grader Carlyn Tanner of Compton, beaming as he and his brother Cayden, 7, sorted through a mountain of books in assembly-line fashion.

The Ralph Bunche students were accompanied by their parents and 4-year-old sister Calleigh. They had volunteered for the day-long effort to bring desperately needed books to the school’s libraries.

The drive was organized by Access Books, a nonprofit group that works to improve Southern California’s most impoverished school libraries. Access joined with a team of Canadian children’s authors to collect around 5,000 books — some purchased new, others used and donated.

“The best predictor of how you read is access to books,” said Rebecca Constantino, founder and executive director of Access Books. “For children who live in poor communities, the best predictor is access to a good school library.”

Students at Ralph Bunche have lacked such access, according to Principal Synee Pearson Gourdine. The school, one of 25 elementary institutions in the Compton Unified School District, can provide only about three books per child, Pearson Gourdine said. California’s Department of Education recommends 28 library books per student, according to a recent draft of its proposed school library standards.

So when Pearson Gourdine learned that her school had been selected to receive a bounty of books, and would receive help renovating its libraries, she was elated.

“If our students don’t learn to read and don’t experience the joy of reading, I feel their growth is stunted for the future,” Pearson Gourdine said. “We want to enhance the library to where it’s a place they want to visit at school and in public.”

The campaign to bombard Bunche with books got a boost from far-flung literary specialists after Canadian children’s author Helaine Becker visited schools in Long Beach and was dismayed by the dearth of books.

“I was really appalled by the state of the libraries,” Becker said. “I thought, it’s shocking; it’s terrible.”

She rallied colleagues to organize several book drives, which eventually led to the campaign “Air Lift to L.A.”

The books include illustrated large-print texts, activity-oriented manuals and popular fiction.

Fourth-grade teacher Emma Den Hartog stressed the importance of having culturally sensitive books that “open up the world for children who may not have the opportunity to travel, or travel only within a small radius of their home.”

While some children stamped and catalogued books Saturday, others helped beautify the Bunche campus by painting murals. Fifth-grader Kennedye Davis, 10, slathered red paint into the outline of a train on an outside wall, while 10-year-old Angel Benitez and Ryan Smith stood shoulder-to-shoulder painting a huge green caterpillar in the library room designated for kindergarten-through-second-grade pupils.

Sibling third-graders Ajalee and Lee Harris were among the army of youngsters encouraged by their parents to spend part of their weekend helping their school. Sorting out the libraries was a priority for their mother, Demetra Harris.

“Unorganized library, unorganized education,” she said.

Some of the young volunteers were experienced book-drive helpers and were eager to share their views on reading as they stamped, stacked and racked.

“Books are a good education for all ages,” said Madeline Miller, 10, a fifth-grader at Valley Alternative Magnet School in Van Nuys, who came to help at Ralph Bunche with her sister, Susannah, 8, and mother, Sandra Tsing Loh. “Just imagine a world without books. It would be pretty boring.”

Canadian Group Plans “Air-Lift” to Help Compton School

September 29, 2010


A team of Canadian authors plans to pitch in on Saturday with Los Angeles-based Access Books to refurbish the library at Ralph Bunche Elementary School — one of 25 elementary schools in the cash-strapped Compton Unified School District.

Access Books founder and executive director Rebecca Constantino is leading an effort to restock and refurbish all the Compton elementary school libraries, one school at a time.

“The California Department of Education recommends 28 books per student, but Compton has only three books per child. The need is drastic,” Constantino said.

She pointed out that only 48 percent of Bunche students scored “proficient’ or “advanced” in English and Language Arts on the California Standards Test.

Research has shown the best predictor of how well a child will learn to read depends on the number of books to which he or she has access.

Ninety percent of the students at Bunche live at or below the poverty line.

So on Saturday, Constantino will lead a team of volunteers in revitalizing the Bunche library by painting murals and cataloguing the brand new books. Access Books will also provide a reading rug, rocking chair and sofa to create an inviting environment — all of this free of charge to the school.

Access Books’ partner in this endeavor will be “Air Lift to L.A.” — an organization that developed after Canadian children’s author Helaine Becker visited a Long Beach elementary school and saw the empty library shelves.

This led her to rally her Canadian colleagues to start a book drive, ultimately collecting 650 books for Barton Elementary School in Long Beach.

Now, she’s turned her efforts into helping Access Books in Compton, collecting 700 new and gently used books for the Ralph Bunche School project.

“The conditions (in Los Angeles) are on par with the worst of the Third World countries,” she wrote on the “Air Lift to L.A.” Facebook page.

Becker is the author of such books as “Science on the Loose” and “The Insecto-Files.”

She said conditions are even worse because in the Third World people are working to raise standards, while in Los Angeles “conditions have deteriorated abysmally in the last 10 years.”

California ranks last in the nation in funding for school libraries, spending less than $1 per child.

The 2011 federal budget proposes spending $400 billion on education, but it does not even mention spending federal funds on school libraries.

Access Books has been revitalizing school libraries in Southern California since 1999.

Bunche Elementary has just moved its campus library into a new, larger space — but unfortunately many of its shelves are bare — a situation that’ll change this weekend when volunteers show up with paint brushes and enthusiasm.

If you would like to volunteer to help revitalize a library in the future, check out Access Books’ website.

Access Books and Airlift to L.A. to deliver books to inner-city school on October 2nd

September 28, 2010


As part of their ongoing commitment to strengthen inner-city school libraries throughout Los Angeles and beyond, Access Books has joined forces with a team of Canadian authors to help impoverished families gain access to books. The event will take place at Ralph Bunche Elementary, a Los Angeles, CA, USA school that is in desperate need of books for its 450 students.

Access Books, Air Lift to L.A. and a team of volunteers from Bunche will spend October 2nd revitalizing the library by painting murals, cataloging brand new books, and providing a reading rug, rocking chair and sofa to create a warm and inviting environment for students. Five authors from Canada will be on hand for the event and to give fun and exciting presentations to the students: Rob Weston, Kari-Lynn Winters, Jill Murray, Wendy Kitts, and Helaine Becker.

California’s Department of Education recommends 28 library books per student however Bunche has a mere three books per student. Therefore, Access Books has set a goal: Collect at least 5,000 books for Bunche’s library and classrooms. Many of these will be brand new, popular fiction titles – books that have been carefully selected to get students excited about reading.

Access Books’ partner for this endeavor, Air Lift to L.A., grew wings after Canadian children’s author Helaine Becker visited a school in the area and saw the empty shelves. Shocked and saddened, she rallied her Canadian colleagues and started a book drive. “The conditions [in Los Angeles] are on par with the worst of the Third World countries,” she writes on the Air Lift to L.A.” Facebook page. “Actually, they are worse, because in much of the Third World, people are doing their best to raise their standards, while in Los Angeles, conditions have deteriorated abysmally in the last ten years.”

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