Leon Webb, a former middle school history teacher, wanted to make an impact on improving literacy in low-income schools.
So in 2012, he and a friend launched the Open Book Foundation, a nonprofit that donates thousands of books every year to Title 1 schools.
Webb is keen on donating books to schools because literacy develops critical thinking skills and much more. â€œYou must be able to read,â€ he says. â€œEverything starts with literacy. If they canâ€™t read, nothing else matters.â€
When kids start reading for pleasure, â€œthey learn sentence structure, grammar, verb usage, critical thinking, rising and falling action, plot,â€ and more, Webb says.
The Open Book Foundation is in 11 states so far, â€œroughly 850 classrooms.â€ Interested teachers can register on its website.
The organization also partners with each stateâ€™s Department of Public Instruction.
â€œWeâ€™re then able to identify each Title 1 school in the state and pull these schoolsâ€™ report cards and see their literacy scores over the past three years, the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and the average class size,â€ Webb says. â€œIf the schoolâ€™s literacy rate is below the state and county grade level, we reach out to the school directly.â€
Asked if the students who receive the books are developing as readers, Webb says they are, but he hesitates to take credit for it.
â€œThere are multiple factors that affect how a childâ€™s literacy proficiency increases or not. What weâ€™ve done is created an opportunity for that child to have greater access to books.â€
The Open Book Foundation focuses on grades K through 5, with an emphasis on grades 2 and 3. â€œThird grade is the first time students can be tested for literacy proficiency,â€ Webb says. â€œWe want to halt the reading gap there, so it will decrease as they go forward.â€
Many of the books are multicultural, including Spanish to English titles. All are on grade level and content-appropriate.
The Open Book Foundation is also working on stimulating programs that focus on family and community engagement. He and his team have developed a unique Breakfast with Badges event, in which at-risk middle schoolers and police officers not only eat together but develop a mentoring relationship.
â€œThe kids will have direct access to these police officers and vice versa. The police will meet with them quarterly to see how theyâ€™re doing. The idea is to break down the fear and animosity that exists between the police and the community.â€
To donate or find out more, go to the website of the Open Book Foundation.