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Once upon a time: A tale of learning

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More than 3,500 St. Louis children from kindergarten to eighth grade have been provided with free books of their choosing to start their home libraries, and Ready To Learn has made it all possible.

Ready To Learn is a St. Louis-based nonprofit organization founded in 2011. Elise Tierney, president and founder of Ready to Learn, speaks out about the important role of reading in a young child’s education.

“I run across students every single day who are reading below level and [Ready To Learn] is changing that reality,” Tierney said. “I believe that if you can read, you can do anything.”

The nonprofit gets most of its books from weekly donations and book drives and operates with the help of about 40 volunteers. The organization is partnered with dozens of groups that help by donating gently used books and stuffed animals.

Ready To Learn uses about $7,000 to $12,000 a year for buying books, and the funds from Old Newsboys Day, along with all other monetary donations go toward the purchase of books.

Schools chosen to receive assistance from Ready To Learn will be provided with at least 1,500 books each year. Students will have multiple titles to pick from. Popular titles include “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” by Jeff Kinney, and “Captain Underpants,” by Dav Pilkey.

One student will receive more than 50 books by the time he or she reaches sixth grade, if he or she is in the school from preschool through sixth grade.

Ready To Learn looks specifically for high-need schools in low-income areas. The organization conducts a survey about the reading levels within the school and the average number of books students have at home; they currently assist 10 schools.

The nonprofit hosts two book days per year when every student in attendance receives four books of their choosing. The schools are visited twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring.

The books provided to the children are theirs to take home and keep.

“The books that we give out are all free. Every single one,” Tierney said. “In the last four years, we have given out over 107,000 books for free.”

Student Kanisha is grateful for the program.

“I believe that you guys can change the whole wide world by giving kids books,” she wrote in a letter to Ready To Learn.

The organization also provides a book buddy program. The program allows students to read with a stuffed animal that looks like the main character of their book. These book buddies are carefully paired with books by volunteers.

“It’s a tool for teachers to engage their students, and I think that’s really powerful,” Tierney said. “We’ll use anything we have at our disposal to get kids excited about reading and learning.”

Teachers report that children were more likely to read with a book buddy, than without one, given the choice.

Shatana is one student who benefited from the book buddy program.

“The book makes the buddies come to life,” Shatana wrote in a letter.

The Book Buddies are kept at school during the year, but teachers are able to send one home with each student in their class twice each school year.

“I really do believe now that one person can change many, many, things,” Tierney said. “And my goal is to change St. Louis and make it a better place for all of us. But what Ready To Learn is about is not the books; It’s about providing opportunities to kids to really bring out the potential within themselves. It’s a privilege to be around these kids.”

Addison Vallely is a senior at Marquette High School.

Beth O'Malley • 314-340-8869

@PDBeth on Twitter

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