At the public school in the rural community of Chuimanzana, a line of eager students reaches up to a truck laden with boxes and large, wooden bookshelves. Students share laughter and shouts as they stagger under the heavy burden of boxes full of books. Their excitement reflects that of the entire Child Aid team. Book delivery day is one of the highlights of the year and marks the beginning of a new school year for Child Aid’s Reading for Life program. For the teachers and students in these communities, it will be a year filled with books, learning and new experiences.
Distributing colorful, engaging storybooks to schools is a key part of Child Aid’s goal to make reading accessible for all students. Schools in Guatemala face a chronic shortage of age-appropriate books for their students. This is especially true in rural, indigenous areas where illiteracy and school dropout rates are highest. This year, Child Aid will donate over 20,000 books to the 68 schools participating in our Reading for Life program. This annual book distribution provides teachers and schools with the critical resources they need to teach, motivate, and inspire their students’ learning and reading.
“Before, the only books we had were a few textbooks,” says Hector Cuc Cumes, a 4th grade teacher at the San Isidro school. “These books were obligatory and students were bored by them. Now [because of the library] of books, learning is fun for them. Students are more interested in their classes now and pay more attention.”
This year also marks the first time that Child Aid has purchased the majority of the books we are providing to schools.
“In the past, Child Aid has been able to distribute books to schools thanks to large book donations we’ve received from U.S. publishers,” says Child Aid Country Director Angus Fredenburg. “But because of changes in printing technology, book donations have dropped significantly in recent years at the same time that our program is growing. So, to meet the need, we’ve had to switch to purchasing most of the books ourselves. This has been a challenge but also an opportunity to improve the quality of the books we’re providing.”
“We love book donations, but they often leave gaps in the types of books schools need since we have no control over what is donated,” adds Annie Blakeslee, Director of Pedagogy at Child Aid. “Teachers were requesting more easy books, especially since many students are not yet reading at grade level. So this year, we decided to make a change and be more strategic about the books we are providing to schools.”
To plan for this year’s book purchases, Blakeslee outlined a “target” collection of books that cover a range of subjects, genres, and reading levels and that are aligned with Child Aid’s teacher training curriculum. She says she looked for books that students would be excited to read and teachers would be excited to use in their classrooms.
“This year, no matter what grade a child is in, and whether they’re interested in dinosaurs, princesses, legos, space, or puppies, they are sure to find a book that interests them and is just at their level. Teachers will benefit too, with a wider range of interesting stories to read to their students and non-fiction books specifically selected because of their connection to topics teachers teach,” says Blakeslee.
Now that the books are in the schools, Child Aid trainers will get to work the rest of the year to ensure that those books are be used by students and teachers every day, both in and outside of the classroom. They will lead training workshops to teach teachers new techniques for literacy instruction. Through one-on-one coaching sessions, they will be helping teachers use the new books and techniques in their classrooms successfully. And they will be working with teachers to set up school libraries, reading corners and lending programs so that students have plenty of opportunities to practice and become confident and independent readers.
Judging by the enthusiasm of teachers, students and staff, it promises to be another exciting year of literacy and learning at Child Aid. We can’t wait to see what the new year will bring!