|Santa Fe New Mexican wrote:|
A reading program launched by Santa Fe youth now boasts 11 sites around the city where kids can rummage through books and take some home. The aim: Get books into the hands of kids and encourage them to read.
Along with the free book sites, students in the program host reading contests with some pretty big incentives for participants, ranging from Kindles and laptops to — of course — books.
Coaxing youth to read real paperback and hardbound books seems an odd idea in an era of computer games, e-books and all things digital. So far, though, students involved with the program and their adult sponsors said the idea is proving popular. They said it’s even hard to keep shelves stocked with books at some of the sites.
Julianna Piechowicz and Indu Holdsworth, both 13, have been helping with the program since it began three years ago. Both are students at the School for the Arts and Sciences, where the idea originated.
“Students a year older than us came up with the idea,” Holdsworth said, as she and her classmates took a break from restocking children’s books Friday at the New Mexico Human Services Department’s Income Support Division office in Santa Fe. “We jumped on and said, ‘Yeah, we want to do that, too.’
“The middle-schoolers had been studying Ghandi that year and how stuff he did changed things immensely,” Holdsworth said. “They decided they wanted to do the same. They realized one of the big pressing problems in New Mexico was that a lot of people in [the state] cannot read.
“The first idea was to distribute books to people, because some people just cannot afford them. Then the other idea is, we actually need people to read books. So we started having contests with really cool prizes.”
At the Income Support Division office off the Interstate 25 Frontage Road, the students converted a small glassed-in area into an inviting reading room for children who often have long waits with their parents. They put in colorful carpets and comfortable, kid-sized easy chairs. There are even a few toys. One of the shelf stockers, Alex Malhotra, 14, said the division’s site is one of the most popular, and they often have to resupply it with books.
On Friday, as soon as the middle-schoolers were finished sorting and restocking the shelves with books in English and Spanish, two little girls wandered in to take a look. Ava Love-Montoya, 3, and Madison Quintana, 4, both said they like to read books.
“My favorite is Beauty and the Beast,” Madison said. “I go to the library with my Nona [grandmother].”
“Me, too,” Ava said.
The bookstop project now involves youth from Capital High School, Santa Fe High, Acequia Madre Elementary, Monte del Sol Charter School, the Academy for Technology and the Classics, Santa Fe Prep and the New Mexico School for the Arts.
Students from each school are part of a steering committee called Youth United for Hooked on Books. The committee thinks up the various contests and prizes, judges the contests and conducts the awards ceremony. (In the latest contest, youth read a book, then draw a map about a place in the book and submit it for consideration. The deadline is Nov. 1.)
Seventh-grader Gabe Maestas, 12, who said he didn’t learn to read well until second grade, will help tutor other youth through the program. Middle-schoolers from the Santa Fe School for the Arts and Sciences also tutor elementary students at César Chávez Community School every Friday morning throughout the year.
The student program also collects and distributes books to the Prison Project, which provides books for prisoners and their children.
The community can help the reading program by sponsoring a bookshelf or donating books. Each bookshelf has a donation bin next to it. “We are in need of books for infants through young adult,” said Santa Fe School for the Arts and Sciences teacher Rayna Dineen. “We are always in need of bilingual children’s books and picture books.
“Some of our bookshelves have been sponsored by local businesses, like Beehive Books and Tumbleweeds, but most are in need of a sponsor,” she said.
Adult books can be donated in Hooked on Books’ name to Op Cit books in the Sanbusco Center or Books & More on Cerrillos Road. Books can also be dropped off at donation bins at Java Joe’s on Rodeo Road and any New Mexico Bank and Trust office.
The Youth United reading efforts earned a national Peace Jam youth service award last year. As part of the award, Nobel Peace Prize-winner Betty Williams will visit Santa Fe and Hooked on Books/Youth United in mid-November. Winners of the latest reading contest will have an opportunity to meet Williams.
For more information, see the website NMAllianceforLiteracy.org.
Contact Staci Matlock at 505-986-3055 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @stacimatlock.