May 30, 2017

First Book: More and more locals prepare students for summer reading

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
first book - longwood
Caption: Members of the Middle Island Teachers Association handed out 21,000 books at Longwood Day, a mid-spring school event in Long Island. Photo provided.

First Books are rolling down the highways in tractor trailers, getting dropped off at schools across the state, and then careening around country roads in the backs of vans and trucks as union members pick them up and haul them to school and community events to be given to students. In its most prolific season of literature yet, NYSUT has coordinated local unions’ efforts to earn six truckloads of books from First Book, Inc. through its partnership with the American Federation of Teachers.

Each truck contains 42,000 new books.

For students, it means they will have new books in their hands for summer reading. Local unions are hosting book giveaways at school and community festivals; for some of the locals, it is their first such event.

Teacher Jeanne Saeli of North Babylon Teachers Association helped coordinate her local union’s inaugural First Book giveaway, where a cadre of volunteers overcame obstacles as adeptly as heroines in a good novel.

The local shared a truckload of books with another Long Island local union. When the NBTA’s 21,000 books arrived in North Babylon, the truck did not align with the loading dock.

“We had to unpack 13 pallets by hand in the pouring rain in an assembly line style. It took us over 2 hours to break down the pallets this way, but it got done with the help of all the teachers from all the buildings, retirees, secretaries, custodians, student volunteers from the high school and our PTA,” Saeli said.

The First Book giveaway was promoted on the NBTO’s website and other forms of social media, talked up at district events, shared with parents’ community groups, posted on electronic boards outside the schools, and announced on robotic calls made by the district. The morning of the May 6 giveaway, parents were lined up waiting for the all-day event to begin. The crowd was so big that all the books were gone by 11 a.m. More automated calls had to be made to let the community know the giveaway was over.

Like any good book, it had to have an ending.

“It brought the community together and it let the families see that the union and district are cohesive in our efforts and desires to better the education of our students,” said Saeli.

Other local unions who received books for the Spring 2017 Truckload Challenge were the Ballston Spa Teachers Association, Middle Island Teachers Association, Uniondale Teachers Association and the United Federation of Teachers.

On June 2, a First Book truck will head to the Rochester area, and then bear north, stopping at Plattsburgh.

Both in-service and retired NYSUT members qualified for the truckloads from First Book, a non-profit organization. The action is a result of more than 9,000 new First Book, Inc. registrations collected statewide.

“It’s a new record for NYSUT,” said Paul Webster, NYSUT community liaison. He reports that, since 2013, NYSUT member registrations have generated a little more than 1.5 million free books across New York State with a retail value of more than $14.2 million.

Matt Hill, local president for Haverling Teachers Association in Bath and a NYSUT executive board member, will be hustling after the June 2 Rochester drop-off. He and his union colleagues will quickly be carting the books back to Bath for a community-wide event the next day as part of the local Dairy Festival. Hosting a First Book event is novel to them.

“This is our first one and the whole community comes to this event,” said Hill. The Dairy Festival features a parade and exhibits inside the county fairgrounds. Teacher and school-related professionals will be there handing out shiny new books, stamped on the inside with the name of the HTA local union.

The books are important to the students served in this district.

“All of our kids get free and reduced lunch,” said Hill. “Most families don’t have books. Certainly not new books.” Getting to the public library is difficult for families because the district is so rural, with many families living long distances away, Hill explained.

To earn the books, Hill’s local sent out emails to all members; 300 of them signed forms to sign up for First Book.

“Because of the hard work from members of many local unions who have joined this program, it has become a huge success – both in providing free books to our students and in community engagement opportunities for NYSUT members over the past four years,” said Webster.

Just ask the families who went to Longwood Day, a mid-spring school event in Long Island, where the Middle Island Teachers Association handed out 21,000 books carefully stacked for viewing. Students and families filled red tote bags with the local union’s logo on them. The event was promoted on Facebook, with fliers and through automated phone messages from the district.

“We have received so much positive feedback. Our members turn out in huge numbers to help set it up and our community loves it.” said Josephine Libassi, English teacher and second vice president of the MITA.

With a heart full of gratitude and boxes empty of books, Libassi said that MITA, through NYSUT and First Book, has given away approximately 90,000 books to date in Longwood schools, the community and partner organizations that serve children.”

In Lockport, the local there held a First Book giveaway for the second consecutive year, “bringing literacy, fitness and community together in one fun-filled event,” said Danielle Hagen of the Lockport Education Association.

“This year's addition of a district- and community-wide Color Run fundraiser for YMCA summer camp scholarships and the ENORMOUS number of free books to give away, made the event an even larger success than last year!” she said.

Ballston Spa Teachers Association has been linking First Book giveaways to established events. It held a Book Bonanza on school budget vote day, which was also school pride day. Kim Pusatere, local president of the BSTA, said community members were allowed to choose up to 10 books for their family. "It was a great success-- we distributed 6,000 books and our school budget was approved with an 80 percent passage rate!" she said. A few days later, the union was at it again, hosting a second Book Bonanza to complement the district's own Scotties Stampede 5K race. Another 1,200 books were given out at the event.