For children in primary grades, whatever literature a teacher presents is often the students' main exposure to both books and the greater world around them. For this reason, educators should consider the implications of the fact that while more than half of the children enrolled in U.S. public schools are people of color or Native American, only 22% of children's books published in 2016 portrayed characters of color, and only 13% were written by an author of color (Teaching for Change, 2018). As a bilingual, Title I school, Kings Beach Elementary is home to children of diverse socioeconomic, racial, and social backgrounds, all of which come together to make the school special and wonderful. It is important that the primary grades' classroom libraries act as mirrors, reflecting back the students' realities. The Social Justice Books Project well-explains what thought needs to go in to creating such reading lists: "It is not enough to simply diversify the characters in children’s literature. We are also concerned with who is writing the stories, what the characters are doing, how issues of power and activism are introduced, and representations of people in community rather than in isolation." Selecting books with these criteria in mind allows educators to bring awareness to children's differences, similarities, the realities of their day-to-day existence, as well as to dispel myths, stereotypes, and distortions of minorities. What is more, brain research shows that when children are engaged with a topic, when they consider it to be important to their sense of self, they learn more effectively. Thus, a library with a social justice orientation promotes social development, emotional development, social studies/historical contexts, and fundamental reading schools.
The Social Justice Library grant would provide a set of books that feature quality writing and rich illustrations that also touch on a multitude of individual identities, communities, and cultures to 11 different classrooms, from transitional kindergarten through second grade, including a kindergarten/first combination classroom. The selected books are appropriate for this age range. By providing these books to each classroom, every child will be able to access the resources equitably, whether through a group read aloud or through individual exploration. If the whole list is purchased, every student in these 11 classrooms could have 1-2 books promoting social justice in his or her "book box" at any given time. What is more, having these books as a permanent staple in each classroom shows the children who can identify with certain individuals, groups, and communities portrayed in the stories that their identity matters to the teacher, the class, and to the school as a whole. Through this grant, we can promote both excellence in reading and value of our children's unique identities, a win-win for our school and our district.
The Social Justice Library in each classroom will allow students to directly access texts that promote empathy, self-esteem, self-awareness, a broader world view, and a multi-perspective view of history and current events. It will also promote fundamental reading skills, by directly engaging students; neuroscience shows that students who think a subject or skill is inherently and personally important will learn that subject or skill more effectively.
Social success of the program will be determined by observing students' increased empathy, emotional well-being, and self-esteem. In terms of reading ability and social studies content learning, success will be determined by students' ability to ask and answer questions about texts, ability to recall or retell a story, and ability to read parts of or whole texts alone.
Each classroom at Kings Beach Elementary from TK through 2nd grade will receive a set of the book list for the Social Justice Library. Texts will be read in whole group and small group settings, for a variety of purposes, including social studies, social-emotional learning, reading fundamentals lessons, math lessons, and even art lessons. They will also be available to students for individual reading and exploration. If the entire book set is purchased for all 11 classrooms, each student can have 1-2 books in his/her book box at all times.
The grant will provide access to all 11 classrooms from TK-2nd to ensure equitable access and promote valuing minority identities in the school. Teachers from 3rd and 4th grade will be welcome to borrow the texts.
PACE, Measure A, and Donors Choose are potential sources for funding, but most of those resources have already been allocated to other needs. Also, not enough funds are available to cover the cost of the grant which covers 11 classrooms.