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Book drive impacts underserved high school students

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Andrea O’Brien, M.S., associate director, residential admissions on ATSU’s Missouri campus didn’t know just how much a simple act could impact so many lives. In early August, O’Brien’s former colleague from Truman State University, Stephanie Chrissotimos, sent O’Brien and others a note requesting book donations for her classroom library. Chrissotimos is a high school English teacher with the Teach for America program, in Crossett, Ark., a significantly underserved school district.

“Her students are on average reading three grade levels below their current age, with some reading at a sixth-grade level,” said O’ Brien. She found out that Chrissotimos’s goal was to provide reading materials for students so that their reading levels could be improved by at least two grade levels within the next year. However, her school library was significantly lacking recent, interesting books for students to read, and her classroom library was furnished with only 30 books that Chrissotimos supplied from her personal library for 79 students.

“My husband John and I brainstormed on about how we could obtain enough books to ‘stuff our van’ so that we could drive them down to Stephanie’s classroom in Arkansas over Labor Day weekend,” said O’Brien. “We didn’t go through another organization to get the idea or to plan it. We just saw a need and wanted to help.”

The O’Brien’s asked friends and family to donate books. In addition, they called upon colleagues, church members, and Rotarians to clean off their personal book shelves or go online to donate to the cause by buying a book directly for her classroom library. They committed to bringing 500 books to Chrissotimos’ classroom. In the end, they collected more than 2,000 books over four weeks.

The O’Briens and their son, Zane, drove the 12-hour trip to Crossett to personally deliver the books to Chrissotimos’ classroom September 3. “There were students who volunteered to help us unload two vehicles, and their excitement was uncontainable!” said O’Brien. “The books we delivered lined the side of the classroom wall in two to three rows, stacked about three boxes high, and there was a wide selection of nearly every reading genre and reading level.”

O’ Brien remarked that “Needless to say, the 24 hours driving to Arkansas and back in two vehicles was worth every penny in gas and time spent behind the wheel. It was a wonderful trip!”

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