“Books Unbound: A Free Book Fair Experience,” for all 523 students

April 19, 2024 /

Imagine being a student at Williams Elementary School, and during a school rally, a familiar organization announced that everyone gets a voucher for twenty dollars to spend at the book fair. The Children’s First Campaign made that dream a reality and all 523 students had the opportunity to purchase books of their choice through the classic childhood pastime of attending a school book fair.

“A week before their book fair, we had a literacy rally where we announced to the whole school and staff because the staff didn’t even know,” explained Gabriel Arellano, a program manager at Children First. “Once the book fair happened, and every class went in to go get their books, I think that’s when it started to really sink in for the kids. They’re like ‘I can get this book or these three books?’ and there’s also math involved.”

Reactions from the students included shock and joy. Children First added to their social media videos from students during the book fair, and there were many smiles.

Right in time for Spring Break, in March 2024 the students were able to pick out their books. Organizers recognized that this was a chance for the youth to also learn more about using math skills to calculate sales tax with totals. There was a major push to get the students to only purchase books although the regular Scholastic book fair encouraged kids to buy all kinds of products like toys. Focusing on books only is another way Children First prioritizes raising literacy rates.

Children First has been connected to Williams Elementary for over a decade since 2012. The organization aims to continue to foster relationships with surrounding schools in East Bakersfield. Unfortunately, many areas in the east side lack adequate funding for public services like parks and recreation and education- programs that directly impact youth.

“This area, east Bakersfield, has kinda historically been socioeconomically disadvantaged, and also it’s in our mission that we want to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. One of the ways we’re trying to do that is by helping supplement this school- Williams- with extra educational resources so we can help fill in that gap,” Arellano said.

Arellano stated that Children First hopes to continue making free book fairs. There is one tentatively planned for the Fall with possible collaborations with other schools in the area like Jefferson Elementary School.

The Children First nonprofit is a small team of employees and mostly volunteers. One of the leaders and the founder is Vice Mayor Andrae Gonzales. Gonzales authored the grant proposal to the Virginia and Alfred Harrell Foundation which awarded them a special grant of $30,000 for “Books Unbound: A Free Book Fair Experience,” as stated on their website.

The Williams Elementary librarian, Jose Morales, the principal, Anamarie Mendez, and the academic coach Sarah Vasquez teamed up with Children First to become the real-life superheroes who brought this book fair experience to life. After asking themselves what kind of event they should host to get the books to the students the group decided on using the fair. Scholastic was then brought on board as a partner.

Data is collected to help determine what areas Children First should focus on for each school. Arellano mentioned that Children First has used the LCAP before. Methods of feedback through boards like the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) support listening to student and parent voices through meetings and forums, for more information check out bcsd.com.

Anyone interested in donating to Children First to support their efforts and weekly events should attend their fundraising events like their annual gala. Other ways to donate can be found on their website: https://childrenfirstbakersfield.org/donate/.

“We hope to help instill some sort of pride in reading and also just providing them with a core memory,” Arellano said.

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