JetBlue campaigns against book deserts – Part II
**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**
A guest post by Anwar Y. Dunbar
This article is the continuation of my interview with JetBlue’s Icema Gibbs and Dr. Susan with respect to their new effort to help families living in “Book Deserts.”
For simplicity, I will be identified by my initials; AD. Susan Neuman and Icema Gibbs will be identified by their respective initials; SN and IG.
AD: How are you all going to measure the effectiveness of this effort?
SN: We’re going to look at those who tend to use the vending machines the most and the growth of their vocabulary over the summer. We’re also looking at their content knowledge and their learning. Many of the books are information based which are tied to the Common Core, so we’re looking at those requirements and whether or not the children were understanding of the information as a result. We don’t just want to be a feel good project. We want to say that we’ve moved the needle and that the children are performing better than ever before. We want to show how capable these children are when given the opportunity and the materials.
AD: Are you going to give the students a test at the beginning?
SN: A checklist.
IG: As only an educator can do.
AD: Are you going to be working with the DC Public Schools?
SN: No. We’re going to focus on those who use the Vending Machines and those in other parts of the city without them. Again we’re going to determine; their print exposure, their vocabulary and their content knowledge.
AD: Is this the first time a model like this has ever been tested?
SN: It’s the first time ever.
IG: We really feel it’s groundbreaking. Don’t’ get me wrong, there may be some town in Germany who may have done it already, but all of our research suggests that we’re going to be the first ones here.
AD: Are you going to have to sell the parents on this as well?
SN: I don’t think we’re going to have to sell.
IG: I don’t think so either.
SN: I think the sustainability of the project is important. We’re going to convince the local community that there is a demand for books. That means that in the local community, proprietors will start to shelve and make books available for our children and that is essential. So in other words we’re not just about giving away books and crying victory. What we want to see is a change in the community and the proprietors in that community.
IG: When Susan did her study, she went to various retail outlets and there were no books. We know that the library is safe place for children to get books, but there should be other places to get them and in other communities there are.
SN: A lot of poor families are concerned about late fees when brining books back to libraries, so that curtails their participation as well.
AD: The reason I asked my latter question is because my father is a retired school teacher and he told me that children do what they see their parents do. That is they’re more likely to read if they see their parents read, and they’re more likely to watch reality TV if they see their parents doing that.
SN: That’s absolutely correct. We just did a recent study showing that the child’s achievement in reading almost paired with the parent’s level of reading. They were almost exactly on par which is sad because if the parent is very low in literacy, the child is also likely to be low in literacy.
IG: We’re hoping that with there now being very little difficulty in getting books, the child will lead the parent. We don’t know so we’ll see. We just want to eliminate the accessibility component.
AD: What made you all decide to use the Washington DC metro area?
SN: Our work was actually a national study. We looked at Washington DC, Detroit and Vermont Square in California. We selected Anacostia because the disparities are so great. We could not find one Pre-School book available for children in all of Anacostia. We walked through every store and every venue and couldn’t find one book. And so then we went to Elementary Schools and we found that 830 children would have to share one book. We wanted to determine if we could show that in President Obama’s backyard, when we provide books to children, there is a compelling use of books by the parent and the child.
AD: Circling back to my first question, it sounds like there is a corporate component to this. That is corporations aren’t targeting certain communities.
IG: I’m not in their marketing department so I can’t say that for sure. I can only say what it looks like. If there are no book stores available, there’s possibly a conscious effort not to put them there for whatever reason. Our point however is that there doesn’t have to be a book store per se. If you have a retail outlet, there could be a section, and there could be an aisle. Put some books in the $0.99 store. Have options other than the library, and that’s not what we see.
AD: Okay I think that’s all I’ve got.
SN: So I would encourage you to keep following us. At the end we’ll have results. We want this not only to be a beginning, but also a continuing story. And I think that when we change the opportunity for these kids, we change the achievement.
IG: In July, we will also be returning with our traditional component we’re working with Random House where we will be reading to children and giving out books. Last year we had the Soccer players come but this year we’re having it at Aquariums to go with the Jack and Annie Shark theme from the Magic Treehouse, so we’re very excited about that.
AD: Thank you both. This is tremendous work, and I look forward to hearing about the results.
For more information about JetBlue’s Soar with Reading campaign, go to http://www.soarwithreading.com/.
Anwar Y. Dunbar is a Regulatory Scientist in the Federal Government where he registers and regulates Pesticides. He earned his Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of Michigan and his Bachelor’s Degree in General Biology from Johnson C. Smith University. In addition to publishing numerous research articles in competitive scientific journals, he has also published over one hundred articles for the Examiner (www.examiner.com) on numerous education and literacy related topics in the areas of; Current Events and Culture, Higher Education, Financial Literacy, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). He actively mentors youth and works to spread awareness of STEM careers to minority students. He also tutors in the subjects of Biology, Chemistry and Physics. He is a native of Buffalo, NY. He can be contacted via email at [email protected], and can be followed on Twitter @anwaryusef.