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University of Dayton Magazine
Book swap 12-6-12 Larry Burgess

Book smarts

1:47 PM  Dec 10th, 2012
by Emma Jarman '11

It’s not every day you peek into a fourth-grade classroom and see it crowded with 19-year-olds. That’s exactly what was to be found as a herd of UD first-year students from the Building Communities through Social Justice Living-Learning Community descended on Edison Elementary School Thursday, Dec. 6.

Since August, the UD students have worked with more than 120 Edison students in the third-, fourth- and fifth-grades and special education classes in a campaign for children’s literacy. Through letters and photographs, the students communicated with their pen pals in the “Getting to know you” pen pal initiative. The culminating event, a cookie and book swap, saw UD students crammed into each classroom, finding their “buddy” and presenting him with a gift: a hand-selected book chosen specifically for the child, with their interests and their reading level in mind, gilded with a personalized book plate and bookmark.

“A lot of our kids don’t have books at home,” said Danielle Dabbs, site coordinator at Edison School.

The variance in reading levels of the children reflected this unfortunate circumstance. As buddies settled along the floor to open and investigate their titles, some students thumbed through their sparsely illustrated chapter books like Basketball, or Something Like It with curious ease, while others had difficulty sounding out the simple sentences of Corduroy.

Fortunately, regardless of reading level, each student was just as excited to open the first pages of their book as they were to rip the wrapping paper off to begin with — a rare accomplishment regarding children and books.

“It’s engaging, but they’re also practicing,” remarked Dabbs.

One fourth-grade student, Tion, cradled her new book to her chest as she discussed her holiday plans and nibbled a sugar cookie. She looked forward to reading each pen pal letter when it arrived — and has since begun writing letters to her parents.

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