A key pillar of the Denver Academy school curriculum is engagement in volunteerism and service. Engagement in community service allows students to gain greater social awareness, learn the importance of collaboration, and interact with their community in a meaningful way. DA encourages and supports student-initiated service projects. Through this, I was afforded the opportunity with my friend Audrey L. (DA 11th grader), to create a project that centered on bringing books to underprivileged communities over spring break.
Access to books is critical to ending illiteracy and increasing the availability of learning opportunities. Over 64% of fourth graders in the U.S. are below or at basic level in reading. Illiteracy has become an insidious epidemic, increasing economic and social disparities. Access to books is a first step in remedying this crisis. (*Education and Career News, n.d.) Research has shown that increasing access to books and giving children the ability to choose literary materials dramatically improves childhood academic performance and positively shapes children’s attitudes toward learning. Since low-income communities lack access to books, achievement gaps emerge early leading to a cycle of poverty. Through availability of books, achievement gaps can be eradicated before they occur, ending academic disparity and fostering a path of success at an early age.
In collaboration with Audrey L., and with the support and guidance of DA Dean of 11th Grade Mr. Roberts, we were able to find a home for over a decade’s worth of books no longer in use at DA. We gathered the books from storage, the DA library, and other donated literary materials. Over the span of three months, the almost 4,000 books were counted, logged, and boxed by Audrey and me. Then, the final destination of the literary materials was confirmed: The Pine Ridge Reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota Tribe in South Dakota. With the help of our parents, we packed over 60 boxes into our cars and a trailer and drove to the reservation.
Pine Ridge is one of the largest Native American reservations in the country. It also is considered the “poorest” county in the U.S. with the average per capita income being approximately $8,000. Though all the residents are affected by the severe poverty that permeates the reservation, children are hit the hardest. The school dropout rate is over 70% and childhood/teenage suicide rates are 150% higher than the rest of the United States. These startling statistics illustrate the bleak reality for children living on the reservation.
In conjunction with Re-Member
, a local nonprofit organization that works with the tribal government and residents, we were able to transport 3,842 books and 1,004 pieces of clothing, in addition to furniture, to the reservation. Re-Member works with residents of the reservation to distribute beds, clothes, and books to children, as well as build trailer skirts, outhouses, and ramps for homes on the reservation. With the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, demand for Re-Member’s services have dramatically increased. Additionally, this donation was the first received on the reservation since April 2020.
Though we know that this donation will not eradicate the poverty on the reservation and the inequity the Native American community faces, we hope that these books and supplies can help decrease illiteracy, subsequently minimizing the achievement gap and helping to foster a path to success. This is only a first step, but it’s impossible to learn to read without books!
“Organizing all of the books throughout the school and donating them to Pine Ridge was such a fun and unique experience. I learned new skills, such as organization and communication, as we had to communicate with Re-Member as well as individuals throughout DA. Being able to physically go to Re-Member and the Pine Ridge Reservation was memorable, and I am so appreciative for the opportunity to work on this project.” - Audrey L.
Zoe Manning is a Denver Academy junior who has been a student at DA since seventh grade. Zoe is a student blogger/writer and her many accolades at DA include the founding of the DA Mustang Mentorship Program launched this school year. Read more about the program here