Free Books for Students ‘Means the World to Them’

Criminal Justice Students Donate More Than 2,700

Kindergartner Derrick Weems follows along closely as Allana Dake, a senior at Sparta High School, reads “What a Wonderful World”

When she and her classmates recently gave more than 2,700 books to Gerald R. Ford Academic Center, Chianne TerHaar was happy to know she’d donated about 100 of them.

“I had to force myself to read as a kid,” the Kenowa Hills High School junior said. “To be able to read to them, it’s like oh cool, it’s a good experience.”

Cody Michell, of Forest Hills Eastern, has fun reading to kindergartner Malia McCaleb. “She seemed like she enjoyed it,” he said

Chianne was one of about 70 students in the Kent Career Tech Center’s Criminal Justice Program who came to read some of the donated books to students at the Grand Rapids Public School. Seated in kindergarten chairs, in rockers or splayed on the floor, the students in police uniforms gave the children a fun hour and books to take home this summer.

Close to 140 K-2 pupils pored over tables of books the Criminal Justice students had collected from Goodwill or bought new. Each got one to take home for the summer, and by school year’s end they’ll take home more along with other students at the pre-K-8 school.

The annual book giveaway was organized by Ford kindergarten teacher Kelly Sleighter and Criminal Justice teacher Kelly Bowers.

Kindergartner Journee Carter loves playing with Barbies, so she was delighted to take home her very own Barbie book

Friends since they were classmates at Grand Rapids’ Central High School, the two teamed up on the project to enhance Ford students’ reading and to help Criminal Justice students get to know children from an urban school.

Bowers said many of his Criminal Justice students have had little contact with people from minority communities other than stereotypes they see in the media.

“We want them to see the innocence in these kids’ faces, and that what you’re seeing on the news, in the movies and on TV, that’s learned behavior,” said Bowers, a former Grand Rapids Police officer whose neighborhood beat included Ford Academic. “They’re just so precious.”

Conversely, the children get to meet students in uniform who are compassionate and kind, added Bowers, whose students also donate mittens and coats to the school.

Sleighter said it’s a huge thing for her students to take home 15 or 20 books, from a school that puts high emphasis on academics and parental involvement. “To actually have their very own book means the world to them,” Sleighter said.

“You’re going to keep these books forever!” she told her cheering kindergartners and first-graders. “They’re yours!”

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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