The three of us, Angela, Chris, and Jake, were interested in curriculum in schools. However, with school being out for the summer, we settled on focusing on something similar to curriculum: reading and books. After some help from our teacher and talking through some ideas, we decided to do some volunteer work with the Children’s Book Bank in Portland. The book bank partners with organizations and schools all over the Portland area to bring books to children in low-income families and areas in Portland.
Becoming literate is very important. Donald J. Hernandez wrote, “Educators and researchers have long recognized the importance of mastering reading by the third grade. Students who fail to reach this critical milestone often falter in the later grades and drop out before earning a high school diploma.” Patrick Shannon also wrote in a book titled Reading Poverty in America, “Low-income children lag 12-14 months behind the norms of their middle class peers in both language development and pre-reading skills (Barnett, Carolan, Fitzgerald, & Squires 2013).”
Being read to can help increase a child’s chances of graduating from high school. One in six children who are not reading proficiently in the third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers. This rate is higher in children from low-income families and rural areas. Amazingly enough, literacy even has an effect on our healthcare system. According to the National Academy on an Aging Society, 73 billion dollars is the estimated annual cost of low literacy skills in the form of longer hospital stays, emergency room visits, more doctor visits, and increased medication.
- 68% of America’s fourth graders read at a below proficient level. 82% of those children are from low-income families.
- 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
- 61% of low-income families have no age-appropriate books in their homes.
- Children from middle-income homes have on average 13 books per child. There is only one book for every 300 children in low-income neighborhoods.
- Oregonians who drop out of high school earn an average of $425/month. Finishing high school more than doubles the average salary.
Our project included making bags and cleaning books. The book bank uses those bags that volunteers make to distribute books to children throughout schools and after-school programs in the Portland area. Angela and Chris made bags while Jake went to the center itself to clean the books. Since we volunteered during the summer, the bank wasn’t delivering any books, which was rather disappointing. It would have been fun to go along on a delivery and see the excitement on the kids’ faces when they received the books.
How can you get involved?
The Children’s Book Bank offers several different ways you can get involved in their efforts to help get books to children: you can organize a book drive, start a fundraiser, donate funds, or simply volunteer at their location.
Other helpful links:
 Donald J. Hernandez, “Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation,” Anne Casey Foundation (2012).
 Patrick Shannon, Reading Poverty in America, (New York: Routledge, 2014).