By Karinne Caisse, AmeriCorps Member '16-'17, City Year Sacramento, Rosa Parks K-8 School

It is difficult for our students to get access to books. After an enriching conversation with my starfish student about the ongoing struggle to get him to do his reading homework, I realized for the first time what it actually means when we say this. It means they don’t have books at home – this student told his “City Year” he just had a Bible. It means they don’t have the opportunity to visit the public library often, and when they do, they may not have guidance in selecting books that are appropriate for their reading levels. It means that we have a school library, but they rarely get to go because the librarian is part-time and split between three schools.

So I decided to do something about it.

I took to Facebook and Instagram to reach out to my personal community. I told my story, the story of her students, and my expressed my passion for wanting to do this. I implored the people around me to donate what they could to provide these students with the resources they needed to improve their literacy.

What followed was greater than I had ever imagined. Donations flooded in, everything from brand new to gently used books. By the time school ended and winter break began, Rosa Parks K-8 had received enough books to send each of my 4th graders home with one to keep, and to start a student library, with about 100 books and counting, in the City Year team room. 

This small library of our own has already had a significant impact on the students at Rosa Parks K-8. It is not an uncommon sight to have a 3rd or 4th or 5th grader wander in on their own after school lets out to browse the four stocked shelves for something that looks interesting. City Year AmeriCorps members can be found running back and forth to the City Year room throughout the day to fetch books for students who need to do their reading. I have seen an increase in excitement about reading among the students I serve – students who have struggled with reading since the beginning of the year, who still struggle, but who also regularly ask to be taken outside to read in a quieter space and check out books from this new library to finish reading on their own.

Harry S. Truman once said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” In this small pocket of Sacramento, at a school of close to 900 kinder through 8th grade students, a student challenged me to take a second look at the world he lived in. That second look resulted in action, and that action encourages more and more students to read every day. Every book donated, and every book that continues to be donated, is more than a bundle of paper printed with words. Rather, each book is a promise to our students – a promise that we are here to help them succeed, and that we will do everything in our power to help them become the leaders that we know they are, and that we know this world needs.

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