Creativity in crisis: Free books boost social-emotional wellness

How organizations in Oakland, Calif., get books to high-needs middle and high school students
By: | April 29, 2020
Co-principal Alykhan Boolani of Life Academy High School in Oakland prepares books that will be distributed to students.Co-principal Alykhan Boolani of Life Academy High School in Oakland prepares books that will be distributed to students.

Providing books that students can read and relate to not only supports literacy, reading comprehension, and language growth but also offers a social-emotional boost during coronavirus closures.

In Oakland USD in California, the nonprofit Reading with Relevance has stepped in to get books to high-needs middle and high school students, including those living in the city’s housing projects, says Lacy Asbill, the organization’s founding director.

For lower-income students, stay-at-home orders bring the added stress of tighter, more crowded living conditions, Asbill says.

Reading with Relevance, which has given out about 3,000 books, has focused on appealing to students of color with titles such as The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and With the Fire on High Book by Elizabeth Acevedo.

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“These books deal with social-emotional themes that are relevant—police and the law, managing stress and anxiety, living in close quarters and handling conflict with family members and siblings,” Asbill says.

“What’s driving us is young people having a meaningful relationship with a book that helps to support fluency and comprehension that also provides them a connection point around social-emotional experiences,” she says.

Reading with Relevance has been accepting donations of books from partner organizations such as the Oakland Literacy Coalition, which works to build a love of reading in the city’s children.

Reading with Relevance has also worked to make distribution easy for families by giving books out them along with school meals or when other social services are provided.

“When the pandemic hit and all students went home, we knew, first of all, the digital divide would not be quick to conquer,” Asbill says.

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