I have a big mouth.
Sometimes, that’s not a good thing. Sometimes, it is. It was last year when I invited several “virtual” friends to help my friend Lenora, who teaches kindergarten to some of the poorest students in our society — students who dread holidays and summers because school is better than home.
Lenora is one of those all-too-rare teachers for whom teaching is more than a profession. It’s a calling, one that Lenora answers both willingly and generously. She has dug deep in her own pockets to provide for her students, buying everything from crayons to Kindles for her classroom.
Last year, her school received a grant to provide a book for each kindergartener, and this was the first (and only) book many of those children ever owned.
“My students were SO excited! They had huge grins on their faces and they hugged the books,” Lenora recalled. “I noticed after vacation that a lot of the kids were keeping their books in their backpacks. They told me they were reading the book at their dismissal waiting area and on the bus. The book they had been given featured Pete the Cat. They noticed I had Pete the Cat books in the classroom library and they became favorite read-alouds. My students loved Pete the Cat!”
Lenora wanted to encourage that interest in reading, so she asked me if I thought friends from a group known for performing Random Acts of Kindness would be offended if she asked for help. I didn’t, and I didn’t wait. I immediately posted a request on the RAOK discussion thread — and others — asking those who could to contribute a dollar in the form of Amazon gift cards to help her buy a second Pete the Cat book for each of her students. By the end of the school year, we had purchased six Pete the Cat books for each student, plus additional classroom books and supplies that Lenora had been buying because the parents of her students simply can’t afford them.
“It became a celebration each time they would get a new book. Such a look of joy upon their faces. We would do a read through of the new book together at the end of the day. My students would line up to go home with smiles on their faces, hugging their book to their chest,” Lenora said. “My struggling students that had previously shown no interest in books or reading at all became the ones that were most excited about carrying all their Pete the Cat books back and forth each day. They became more proficient at identifying letter sounds and decoding simple words. A Pete the Cat addition and subtraction practice became a class favorite.”
Lenora used those books to teach something else, too.
“We talked a great deal about random acts of kindness last year. A label was placed inside the front of each book saying, ‘This book provided by a Random Act of Kindness.’ My students became excited about doing acts of kindness for others. It was a joy to see children becoming much more caring and hopeful. They knew there were people who cared about them.”
Twenty years earlier, I’d had the opportunity to see for myself the difference that caring, and reading, makes in students like these when I volunteered to help struggling third-grade readers at Birmingham’s East Lake Elementary School. I visited the school twice a week, spending an hour with three students who should never have been promoted to third grade and wouldn’t be promoted to fourth if they couldn’t catch up. They thrived with the three-on-one attention. Together, on chairs drawn up in a circle in the hallway, we overcame their deficiencies and they learned not only to read but to enjoy reading. As the year drew to a close, I was wanted to do something to prevent them from losing ground over the summer and I decided to buy each of the three a book. I’ll never forget the joy I saw on their faces when they opened the gifts, nor the pride when their classmates saw their books and heard them read aloud.
Such a simple thing. My parents had saved pennies to buy me pony rides and Popsicles when I was a little girl, but we always had plenty of books. My library of more than 10,000 titles includes three or four books given to me some 50 or so years ago. We didn’t have much money back then, but you can’t say we were poor because we had so many books.
I learned to cook because I had learned to read. I learned to knit because I had learned to read. I learned so much because I had learned to read, and I’m still learning because I had learned to read.
I’m helping Lenora once again, because each year brings new students who may never own their own book unless someone like me — and you — provides it. You may not be able to help. You may prefer to help in your own community. I understand. If you can, though, please consider helping Lenora help this year’s class. You can contribute as little as 50 cents through an Amazon gift card, or you can choose something from her Classroom Wish List. The books, or any supplies, will be shipped to Lenora at the school. They must be purchased in her name, otherwise they become the property of the school and cannot legally be given to the students. I’ll add to your gift, using any ad revenues from purchases made through MiddleSisterReviews.com during the rest of the month as well as my own book budget for the next two months.
Here are some of the books Lenora hopes to give her students:
UPDATED 1 August 2016
Thank you! Your direct contributions through gift cards and gifts have provided one copy of a Pete the Cat book for every kindergartner in Lenora’s school! Lenora and her colleagues plan to give the books to the children at the school’s Meet the Teacher event. Sis doesn’t quite know yet exactly how much your indirect contributions — in the form of referral fees to be paid by Amazon for purchases from this site — will total because Lenora expects to return several copies of the book as enrollment is lower than expected. Still, she estimates that proceeds from www.MiddleSisterReviews.com will provide more than $41 to buy additional books and supplies for Lenora’s students. Please check back for Lenora’s review of the Pete the Cat series, which will be posted soon, as all referrals from that review will go to Project Pete to buy books and supplies for these children. Plus, Lenora will report throughout the year on her students’ response to your generosity.