There were 5,300 First Books stacked up in the middle school cafeteria at Lake Shore. And lines of nearly 1,000 eager children waiting to own them, read them and share them. Each student was allowed to choose five books.
“Kids were bumping into each other because their noses were in the middle of their new books,” said Michele Amoia, a third-grade teacher who co-chaired the event with Shannon Muldowney, a middle school science teacher, both members of the Lake Shore Central Teachers Association. “We had 950 kids and more than 2,000 community members.”
For the students, it was a marvel.
“The look on their faces was as if the Buffalo Sabres had won the Stanley Cup,” said Anthony George, president of the Lake Shore Central Teachers Association.
About 100 teachers and teacher aides worked at the “Literacy Across Lake Shore” event, which was sponsored by the 261-member Lake Shore CTA in Erie County.
“It was such an amazing event. It exceeded all of our wildest expectations,” said George. “We’re lucky to have Michele and Shannon. I’ve organized large-scale events, but nothing this large. The skillset these teachers have was on full display. It went off flawlessly. They expanded what they do in the classroom every day.”
Students also visited literacy centers set up for the event, where they could learn sight words or make their own leather bookmarks.
Teachers worked as greeters or handed out books, some of them surprising students by dressing up as characters from books. Many educators wore new union T-shirts that carried the Lake Shore CTA logo. Each student was given a pencil that said "LSCTA supports literacy."
The smell of barbequing chicken wafted across the entrance to the school. Chicken dinners were sold by teachers to raise money for scholarships that the Lake Shore CTA awards to high school seniors. The dinners quickly sold out.
“We give out $3,000 in two scholarships a year. We might be able to increase that for a third scholarship now, in part because of the success of the chicken barbeque,” said George.
He said he met parents who he’d never met at open house or for school events.
Entire families came to the book night.
It might have been hard to tell who was more pumped up about the event: kids or teachers.
“We are super excited,” said Amoia said when she was prepping for the book night. It was through her work as a NYSUT Political Action Committee coordinator for her region that Amoia heard about the community outreach available through First Book. Her fellow PAC coordinator, Cheryl Hughes from Kenmore-Tonawanda, inspired her to try a book give-away after her own local’s successful event.
At Lake Shore, youngsters and teens were given “Literacy Passports” made by students and teachers in the art department. Five books equaled five stamps, enabling the youngsters and teens to drop their passport into a drawing. A raffle was held for five door prizes: five book shelves handmade from repurposed barn board by Lockport TA member and physical education teacher Danielle Hagen.
Five families from each of the district’s five schools went home with new bookcases last night.
The road to get these books to this western New York community was lined with unions. The American Federation of Teachers is a partner with First Book, a nonprofit that gets donated books into the hands of students in need. NYSUT, an AFT affiliate, has been working for more than three years to help local unions with Title I schools to sign up for First Book. This year, NYSUT and First Book have provided nearly $3 million worth of books to students in New York schools.
Many schools have held First Book events this fall.
Before the big book night out in Lake Shore, there was other behind-the-scenes action happening. Many teachers worked on "sorting night" to prepare the books for the give-away. The books had arrived stacked in snug plastic wrappings on wooden pallets.
“I had members who rarely ever come out who came out for this event. It’s about the kids and literacy,” Amoia said. ‘It was such a fun member engagement night.”
“Every facet of NYSUT membership has been a part of this,” said Paul Webster, NYSUT director of community outreach. “Every constituency group has participated.”
Beekmantown TA in the North Country and Middle Country TA on Long Island also recently held their initial First Book events. In Middle Country, there were lines of students out the door waiting excitedly to get their own books to keep.
For more information about First Book, go to www.firstbook.org. Qualified teachers and school-related professionals from low-income schools can also order low-cost books, school supplies, warm coats and backpacks at First Book Marketplace.
This online site boasts both Newberry and Caldecott winners, along with other quality children’s books in fiction, nonfiction, history, poetry and even coloring books at discounts beginning at 50 percent below retail.
Some recent examples are: The Very Hungry Caterpillar (72 percent off); Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type (69 percent off); Diary of a Wimpy Kid (63 percent off); and Island of the Blue Dolphins (61 percent off).
First Book Marketplace also sells socks, hygiene kits, shower kits, oral care supplies and other basic needs items at low cost.