The University of
Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development Ready Freddy program partners with
schools and groups in low-income communities to help children and families
experience a positive and successful transition into kindergarten. The program
also engages in efforts to prevent chronic absenteeism among kindergartners by
recruiting young people through the Public Allies Pittsburgh program to work in
targeted elementary schools. Public Ally Joanna Kemp is currently assigned to
Langley elementary school where she works with the school social worker and
four kindergarten teachers to improve kindergarten attendance.
This is her account of how
she came to establish the Langley Book Drive to get books into the hands of kindergarten students.
one month into my placement at Ready Freddy, a Kindergarten teacher at
Pittsburgh Langley shared some news that I found startling, but sadly she had
heard countless times over the years. A parent of one of her students
confided to her, “I would read to my kids but we don’t have any books at
hearing this, I was initially unsure what to do with the information. I was
still new to Public Allies, Ready Freddy, and the teachers, parents, and
community that make up the school I would be working at for the next 9 months.
I knew that my work at Langley was supposed to be focused on attendance
messaging to decrease the rate of chronic absence in Kindergarten.
kept thinking about all of the statistics we use when talking about the
importance of attendance. It seems like everything comes back to reading at grade
study showed that only 17% of the students who were chronically absent in kindergarten
can read at grade level by 3rd grade. Our prisons look at the third-grade
reading levels of local schools to estimate how much space they will need in 10
Freddy, we focus on positive kindergarten transition, parent engagement, and
regular school attendance so that children will have a strong academic start.
Thinking about all of these things, I had the justification I needed to at
least try to do something that would put more books into the hands of the kindergartners
I work with at Langley.
to do a book drive in November, and distribute as many books as I could in
mid-December. I originally set out to collect 250 gently used books, but in
just one month we were able to collect 550 books from parents, teachers, and
other community partners. A week before the holiday recess, each child was
able to take home 5 books of their own.
that giving books to students is a wonderful way to support their literacy
development, ensure that parents are able to read to them every night, and
instill in them a lifelong love of reading. I really felt that we were giving
these students and their parents the best gift we can give to anyone—the gift
of reading. Giving them any amount of books would have been a success, but
allowing them to pick 5 books they wanted to learn to read was amazing.
book drive and distribution was such a success that the same kindergarten
teacher who sparked the initial conversation commented that we should do it
again in the spring.
already received funding from Ready Freddy that allowed me to purchase one
brand new book for each kindergartner at Langley. Being able to collect and
give books to the families at Langley was an awesome and empowering experience
that I am grateful to have had during my time as an Ally. I could not have
done it without all the support and encouragement from my placement supervisor,
Aisha White, the school social worker, Sarah Armenti, and the staff at Public
Allies. I am already anxiously awaiting the spring so we can do it all over