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First Book giveaway

Instilling a love of reading
New York Teacher

Parents, teachers and students peruse titles in the middle school section.

Samantha Persaud carries an armful of books for her daughter, who attends PS 123
The line stretched around PS 160 in Jamaica, Queens, and down the block for the UFT’s First Book event on June 1. The incentive: 40,000 books being given away for free.

“It was amazing,” said PS 160 Chapter Leader Barbara Reill. “I actually saw kids sitting down to read the books they selected. People were excited.”

For booklovers, it’s a dream come true. For those just discovering the joy of reading, it’s an enticement to discover another world between the covers of a book. For teachers, it’s a chance to find new books for classroom libraries to keep students hooked.

A First Book event is like an open-air library — except customers get to take up to 50 books home for keeps.

Beata Tolpa, a paraprofessional at PS 219 in Flushing, picked up books specifically for her students who are on the autism spectrum. She was impressed by the range of choices.

“It was the first time I’d seen something like this,” said Tolpa. “I was surprised they offered so many different genres.”

The UFT’s partnership with First Book, a nonprofit organization, brings books to communities and children who might not otherwise have access to them. Teachers, parents and students came from around the borough to select from reading material carefully arrayed around the schoolyard. Special sections, with stacks of popular titles, were set up for each school level: elementary, middle and high school.

Paul Hunter, a teacher at PS 176 in Cambria Heights, loads up a cart with books.
A 1st-grader reads a book.
UFT Staff Director Anthony Harmon, who helped organize the event, said the union holds these book giveaways on a regular basis in underserved communities because it is important to ensure teachers and students have the materials they need.

“We’re here to help teachers and students succeed,” Harmon said. “First Book is a big part of helping students to fall in love with books and reading, which is a crucial foundation for lifelong learning.”

UFT Queens Borough Representative Amy Arundell, whose staff helped unload and organize the books, said, “It demonstrates the commitment the UFT has to support our teachers and provide instructional supplies for students.”

Reill lauded the teamwork on display. “Everybody was hands-on and willing to help,” she said. “From school safety agents to the principal at our school, it was a collaborative effort.”

See more photos in the gallery »

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