On MLK Day, Volunteers Organized Books to Help Pupils At Risk

A Day on, Not a Day Off

It was an excruciatingly chilly Monday morning on January 21, a day that served as a foreshadowing of the polar blast that would engulf many parts of the nation the following week.

Many people had the day off, so they didn’t have to brave through the brutal conditions. For those who did make sure to reach their destinations to volunteer, though, it proved to be a worthwhile experience.

Yes, it was a frigid day. But it also was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The warm hearts and altruism of so many people helped them overcome the below freezing wind chills and gusts.

At Islamic Relief USA, many staff members take on community service projects in lieu of working at the office. It’s a wonderful option to have.

This was my second MLK Day of Service project since joining the organization. Just like last year, it was an immensely rewarding experience. Last year, I and other colleagues volunteered at a thrift store in Falls Church, helping organize shelves and racks that held books, clothes, and china, among other items.

This year also involved some sorting of books, but in a slightly different piles of children’s books.

Upon instructions from the people running the event, volunteers would go to the center of the room to collect a stack of books. Many of them were filled with large pictures and even larger fonts, focusing on an array of subjects.

For each book, volunteers checked the Scholastic Book Wizard website to type in the title of the book in the search engine. Once the search results came in, volunteers looked for the “guided reading level,” which was indicated by a letter. They then wrote the letter on the bottom left-hand corner of the book’s back cover.

Officials from Volunteer Arlington, the agency overseeing the event, used those letters to group the books in boxes.

Books with a Purpose

The books will be used for an after-school program for kids who are at risk of falling behind academically. In the after-school program, kids spend three hours each day honing their reading comprehension skills and working on homework.

Most of the students are from grades three to five, an especially critical stretch in one’s educational development. As one official described it, it’s during these grades where pupils begin the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. An inability to sufficiently understand content can quickly snowball, with students reading well below grade level as the years go by, receiving poor grades in their subjects, and low scores on standardized exams.

Officials said in most cases the participating students – of which there are over 100 on a daily basis – see their reading comprehension skills improve considerably by the end of the school year. Most improve up to their grade level, if not right below it.

To make sure the phenomenon known by education experts as the “summer slide” or “summer learning loss” doesn’t kick in, the reading program also takes place in the months when school is not in session. Out of 52 weeks in a year, the program is in effect for 46 weeks.

Thanks to the efforts of all the volunteers, the kids will now have an organized collection of books to read from…and in the process become skilled readers, a habit that will serve them for the rest of their days. If there is any legacy from this particular Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it is providing additional resources to individuals who can least afford to slip through the cracks.

That is a personal dream come true.

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