On the morning of Tuesday, October 15th, Curt Carpenter's office was barely recognizable, filled floor to ceiling with stacks of children's books. Books lined the shelves, stood in towers on the floor and tables, and even formed a stack along the window, giving the appearance from the outside that books were cemented in as part of the wall.
"It feels better to stack them," observes Mr. Carpenter, principal at Clear Springs Elementary. "I was tempted to stack bags and boxes, but it didn't look very nice, and it didn't feel very respectful to the books."
These hundreds of books are the result of the collective effort of students at Clear Springs, and will be donated to a non-profit organization called Reach Out and Read. Reach Out and Read partners with health clinics around Minnesota, collecting used books for pediatricians to give to families when they come to visit with their children. The program is a way to ensure that all children have access to literature at a young age, and is designed to encourage parents to foster relationships with their kids through reading.
"The most critical time to shape a child's future is in the first five years, when there is a more rapid brain development than at any other time in life," explains Dr. Don Draayer, retired Minnetonka School District superintendent and current member of the Excelsior Rotary Club. Dr. Draayer and the rotary club organized Minnetonka Schools' partnership with Reach Out and Read last year, when Scenic Heights Elementary did a similar book drive. "Research shows that more frequent reading at home and positive input of stimuli empowers critical brain development, accelerates the child's vocabulary growth, and also promotes social-emotional growth," he adds.
Following Scenic Height's success, the Rotary Club decided to hold the program again, this time at Clear Springs Elementary. Students from all grade levels stopped by Mr. Carpenter's office with stacks, bags, and boxes of books from home they had finished reading. After just 3 weeks, the students managed to collect more than 2,300 books, filling 48 boxes that quickly overflowed in the back Dr. Draayer's SUV and trailer. Another vehicle had to be sent to collect the remaining boxes. What's more, it seems the students were just as excited about the amount of books as Mr. Carpenter and Dr. Draayer were when they saw the impact of their efforts.
"They're learning that giving feels good," explains Mr. Carpenter. "I think it's important for kids to give to exercise their giving muscles a little, and to teach them empathy. We probably don't talk enough about empathy and giving in our world today."
The books donated by students to Reach Out and Read are distributed across the country, enabling all children to have access to reading material. Research has proven that the program has brought families closer together and improved early education for millions of kids each year.
"There is no doubt in my mind that there is a direct correlation between how much time a parent spends reading to and with their kids and that student's achievement," concludes Mr. Carpenter, describing his own experience reading to his kids when they were younger. "The intimacy of sitting with a parent and reading is really important... and usually kids don't even realize how important it is. They just know what love feels like."