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BookMentors Launches the Future for Poverty Stricken Kids


BookMentors has just launched its nonprofit platform where people can give, get, and talk books to address the grave lack of book access in high-poverty public schools and communities.

BookMentors counts on its community to suggest new books to add to its list. “Suggestions matter because they influence the quality and depth of the offerings to schools, and they also help BookMentors become a truly member-inspired organization,” says founder Jennifer Soalt (HGSE ’03), who taught in high-poverty communities for decades.

Surprised by how quickly BookMentors has attracted teachers’ and donors’ interest, Soalt says, “We have been live for a little over week and already 84 requests from public school teachers all over the United States have been fulfilled.” Also, the ‘talk’ section on BookMentors has been going strong as teachers, readers, and writers exchange information about their favorite books, and thank each other for their book contributions.

At www.bookmentors.org teachers can request book donations for their class, write book tributes, or suggest books for the BookMentors’ collection, and donors can give new books to classes, write book tributes, or suggest books for our collection. The way it works is, donors join the site, select a book they want to give from teachers’ requests or make an offer for a book of their choice. Donors pay BookMentors through Pay Pal on the site, and presto! BookMentors has the book shipped to the teacher.

Press and education pundits bemoan the achievement gap—including the difference in reading test scores between children living in affluent and high poverty communities—yet little attention has been paid to documented problems with book access in high-poverty schools and communities.

If you visit a public school in an affluent suburb you are likely to find a beautiful well-stocked library and students with ample amounts of engaging books to read, which were available both in their homes and in their classrooms. If you visit a public school in a high-poverty community you are likely to find a poorly stocked, outdated library and few or no books for students to read at school or home.

Teachers working in such high-poverty communities can apply to various literacy organizations for book donations, but often in these situations they have no control over the titles given by the organizations. Drawing on her teaching experience in high-poverty communities, Soalt founded BookMentors with a group of friends in education, academia, law and high-tech.

“I was frustrated by attempts to get books for the students in the urban school where I taught, and saddened by the research documenting the impact of a paucity of books on the reading development of high-poverty students.”

Jennifer and her friends envisioned an on-line nonprofit where teachers in high-poverty schools could directly request from individual donors the titles their students needed and also communicate with donors about the books being given. Teachers would be free to use the donated books in their classes or give them to students to take home. Donors and teachers would enjoy meeting online to exchange information about the books they loved.

“People can help get BookMentors up and running by visiting us online, and by spreading the word about their launch to other readers, writers, teachers, publishers, and anyone who cares about fostering the next generation of readers,” says Soalt.

BookMentors is planning to begin working with schools internationally in its second phase, but does not have the resources to do so now. Schools in India, such as the ones Navionics is associated with, are definite possibilities for future work.


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