Beau Kilchenstein, a student at Kootenai Elementary in Sandpoint, always looks forward to when the new books from his Scholastic book order arrive at school. “He loves the fact he gets to pick out his own book,” said his mom, Angie Kilchenstein. “It has really helped to encourage him to read more, and it’s always fun to see all the kids get excited when they receive their books.”
Angie recalls when she was young only certain kids would participate in the monthly book orders, and it was typically due to whether or not a family could afford to purchase them. That is not the case anymore.
Thanks to a local organization, The Village Green Project, all children from kindergarten through third grade in the Lake Pend Oreille School District (LPOSD) are gifted one book each month regardless of the family’s ability to pay.
Karen Quill founded The Village Green Project, a nonprofit. Her goal in doing so was to bring the nationally acclaimed Book Trust Program to LPOSD. “I was on the Book Trust advisory board in Maui for six years and felt strongly that the program would benefit the children here in Sandpoint,” said Karen.
Book Trust began locally in the fall of 2014. At that time the program benefited all of the first grade students in LPOSD—approximately 256 students in all, according to Karen.
“We grew by adding a grade each year. With a special grant, we were able to add kindergarten in February of 2017, finally reaching our goal of every kindergartener, first, second and third grader in all seven LPOSD elementary schools—Southside, Sagle, Washington, Farmin-Stidwell, Kootenai, Northside and Hope,” said Karen.
The total number of students reached by Book Trust is now approximately 1,100—four times more than when it started just four years ago.
One aspect of the Book Trust program that is so important is that it is available to all kids, regardless of income level, which makes having to identify the ones in need a non-issue.
“When [the national organization] Book Trust started, it was only for children on the free and reduced lunch program,” explained Karen. “However, when The Village Green Project brought it to LPOSD, from the first day it was for all children. This way it is part of their classroom culture every day for every child.”
Michelle McNelley is a kindergarten teacher at Washington Elementary and shares that she loves that Book Trust provides books to every child in the class. “We celebrate books and reading together as a classroom community,” said Michelle. “We talk about taking care of our books and creating our own library at home.”
She recalls how the Scholastic book orders made an impact on her as a child.
“I can remember the excitement as a child bringing home a Scholastic book order. My mom and I would sit down together, and I would carefully select a book. I would quickly return the order to school and anxiously await the arrival of my new book,” said Michelle. “When it finally arrived, and I had it in hand, I would just spend time taking in that lovely new book smell. Then I would quickly dash home for my mom or dad to read it to me. As a teacher, I want each of my students to experience this fond childhood memory. However, for many children, this wasn't possible.”
She said, in in the past, a few parents would order at least one book for their child, but not every parent was able to. “As a result, I would quietly place some new book(s) in a few children's backpacks. When you are 5 years old, it is difficult to understand why some children are receiving new books and some are not, and some never had the opportunity to celebrate the joys of a new book. Book Trust has changed all of that!”
Now, once a month, all her kindergarten students sit on the carpet as she hands them each a Scholastic book order. She reads the description of each book to them, and the children then get to self-select books of interest to them, which total $7 or less. After each child has selected his/her books, time is spent sharing with classmates the books selected. “When the box is delivered, and the first child sees the box, cheers that our Book Trust books have arrived fill the classroom,” said Michelle. “I open the box with the class and call each child up to receive their new books. Children spend the next 30 minutes carefully looking at each of their books, showing their books to classmates and then carefully placing their new books in their backpacks to take home. Book Trust promotes the importance of snuggling up and reading to your child every day!”
The annual cost of the local Book Trust program is approximately $90,000. Last year, the students chose and now own for their own in-home libraries—more than 23,000 books. And it not only benefits the students but the staff as well. “Our teachers earned more than 600,000 scholastic bonus points, which allowed them to buy books, teaching tools and supplies,” said Karen.
The funds to support Book Trust are raised locally, with the exception of a grant to bring kindergarten into the program. Many local organizations have provided financial support including Sandpoint Rotary, Community Assistance League, Inland Community Foundation and a grant this year from 101 Women.
“The backbone of our funding is from individuals from our community who believe that literacy is the foundation of all learning and that it will enhance the lives of our students in their future academic and working lives,” said Karen. “Book Trust is changing the culture in our schools to one of a love of reading and changing the lives of our students.”
The national Book Trust program reports that while it may be surprising that so many children in one of the wealthiest countries in the world do not have access to even a $2 book, the fact is that in low-income areas, there is only one book for every 300 children.
Through Book Trust, children are empowered to choose their own books that they are able to keep as their own. By allowing kids to choose their own book, there is an increased likelihood that the child will actually read the book, which in turn builds healthy habits of reading and learning.
The concept for Book Trust began over 20 years ago when a teacher in Colorado wondered why some of her students were not buying books from the Scholastic Reading Club each month. Then reality hit. It was due to affordability. In 2001, she took it upon herself to pilot the Book Trust program, beginning with 170 students. Currently, Book Trust delivers 1 million books to approximately 57,000 kids in 21 states. And thanks to Karen and others in our community, the youth in Sandpoint are able to benefit from this incredible program.
Michelle recalls a moment last year, when she was touched when a student who had just received her Book Trust books said, "This is the book I have always wished for!”
“Without Book Trust, this child may have never had the opportunity to experience receiving a brand-new book that she selected herself,” said Michelle. “As we say in kindergarten, every time our Scholastic book order arrives, ‘Hurray for Book Trust!’”
If you would like to donate to The Village Green Project, you may do so by logging onto VillageGreenProject.org and click on the “donate” button.