Each student at six schools in Frayser got a surprise this Wednesday: A book, delivered by bicycle, to take home for good.
The books were delivered as part of Ride For Reading, a nonprofit that brings donated books, sorted and arranged so they’re age- and grade-appropriate, to groups of volunteers, who then deliver the books to the schools on bicycle. Ride For Reading has delivered more than 160,000 books to students in Title I schools, which serve largely children from low-income families.
More than 50 schools got deliveries recently. The bike ride to six of those schools in Memphis was the largest single set of deliveries in any one city.
“We got close to a ton of books,” said Elizabeth Genco, the Achievement School District’s Senior Director of School Operations for the six schools it is running in Frayser, a large community in north Memphis. Close to 2,000 students received books.
This year’s riders started from Overton Park, rode to the Ed Hill Community Center in Frayser, and then split ways to deliver books to the schools.
— Frayser Achievement (@FrayserAchieves) May 7, 2014
The Achievement School District, in its second year running schools, takes over schools that were ranked in the bottom five percent in the state in Tennessee with the aim of improving them dramatically. Most of its schools are now charter schools, but the six Frayser schools that received the book deliveries this week are all directly run by the ASD.
Ride For Reading was designed specifically with children in neighborhoods like Frayser in mind. It was founded in 2008 by Mathew Portell, a Nashville teacher who was stopped in his tracks when a student informed him there were no books at home to read.
Part of the group’s mission statement, according to its website: “In low-income neighborhoods, the ratio of books per child is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children. Reading is an integral part of education, and without books it is hard to build a strong academic base.”
The Shelby County school system has also been focusing on improving literacy, especially third grade reading, for its students.
Genco said that most students in the Achievement Schools would be able to receive a second book later this school year.
Ride For Reading also aims to highlight the importance of a healthy lifestyle – and the fun of riding bikes, Genco said. “Students got to get their books, see the bikes. They were so excited,” Genco said.
The books delivered to the Memphis schools came from Better World Books, which collects used books from libraries and individuals. ASD staff then sorted them so children received books appropriate to their age and grade level.
The group had just nine riders delivering books this year. Most of the volunteers work for the ASD but not directly with kids. Genco said it helped connect office and operations staff to the students and the community. “I got more hugs yesterday than I’ve gotten in a really long time,” Genco said.
This reporter’s big question: How did nine riders deliver a ton of books? It turns out many of the books did make the six-mile journey from Overton to Frayser in backpacks, or in a cargo area of a bike. The rest, Genco admitted, “we predelivered.”
But the hope is that next year there will be as many as 50 riders making the journey and carrying books on bike. “We don’t just want the cycling community involved,” she said. “It’s about education. We want Frayser, we want the education community all involved.”