What’s Catcher in the Rye doing in my deli?

City school tries clever program to get books into kids’ hands

Local woman Brittani Bunney was looking for a way to help her community, and found it this past April when she was one of 40 residents to volunteer to become “principal for a day” at her neighborhood public school. Suddenly, she felt plugged into the goings-on in the Jersey City district. But helping out for one day wasn’t enough.
She is now involved in a new summer reading program that will plant books in non-traditional locations so that kids will stumble on to them.
With the program set to start on June 18, she said she is still looking for financial donations to purchase books, individuals to donate books, and business to give books to people who want to read them.
Then, volunteers associated with the program will fan out around the neighborhood near School 22 on Van Horne Street putting bags of books in various businesses. These includes salons, bodegas, and other shops.

Born and back

Before becoming involved, Bunney had lived in Jersey City, moved to Montclair, and returned to Jersey City. She works the Silverman brothers, a developer that has its own history of community involvement.
She said the Board of Education wanted residents to get more involved with the schools. The principal of her local school, Oscar Velez, saw a “principal for a day” program conducted elsewhere. So he tried it in his school, which runs from pre-K through fifth grade, and Bunney got to take on his role.
Velez said that in general, books are not as easily available to children as games and other things. By placing them in delis, fast food places, even Laundromats, he and the volunteers hope kids might pick one up and read it.
Bunney said families in the area tend not to support reading for pleasure. Kids may read for an assignment, but not as a hobby, and many homes do not have books for them to read.
“This is my first year as principal,” Velez said. “One of the things we wanted to do is build a stronger relationship between the school and the community.”
He said he heard about a similar book campaign that had been successful in the South Bronx.
Many of the parents in his neighborhood work long hours or multiple jobs. He said he wanted to promote the value of reading at home, and hoped to reach kids who might not have better things to do over the summer, by providing access to books in unexpected places.
“They may not go to Barnes & Noble, or the public library, but they do go to bodegas, Laundromat, pizzerias,” he said. “And if we put books where they go, they may pick them up. If they take them and return them, that’s okay, if not, that’s even better, because the books are at home somewhere.”
He said he is trying to show that PS 22 is not just inside the walls of the school, but it part of a community of learners, students, teachers, and parents, all committed towards the goal of education and providing kids with the ability to move on to better things.
“Reading will allow our kids to compete on the same level,” he said.
The “Book in Basket” program sets a tone. “It takes a community to turn around a school,” he said.
The book program starts on Wednesday, June 18 at 9:30 a.m. at Ercel Webb Park. To donate or get involved, contact Bunney at bbunney@gmail.com, or call 201-238-0068, or contact guidance counselor Patty Acosta at pacosta@jcboe.org, or call 201-915-6482.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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