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AFT and First Book reach 1 million book milestone

The AFT and First Book announced on Dec. 4 that they have distributed 1 million new, free children's books to public schools and to community and educational groups nationwide serving children in low-income families.

The announcement was made at a First Book event in Baltimore, where more than 400,000 books will be distributed. About 60 percent of the books will be shipped to 538 communities across the nation, and the remainder—about 160,000 books—will stay in the Baltimore area. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was instrumental in making the public warehouse available for book storage and distribution.

Randi Weingarten and children at First Book distribution in Baltimore, MD.

"We know that the sky's the limit when children fall in love with books," says AFT President Randi Weingarten. "We're so happy to help encourage a love of reading, which is the reason for the AFT's partnership with First Book. It's just one way we are reclaiming the promise of public education and helping to ensure children are prepared for school, college, career and life."

The AFT-First Book partnership has grown from its first book donation to students at West Side Elementary School in Charleston, W.Va., to the massive distribution of 400,000 books.

"We're proud to work with the AFT," says Chandler Arnold, First Book's chief operating officer. "Working together, we've put 1 million new books into the hands of kids in need and permanently connected thousands of teachers to First Book's resources."

AFT-First Book projects have included creating a library at St. Mary's Orphanage in Mobile, Ala.; distributing thousands of anti-bullying books at Cleveland public school assemblies; giving out bilingual and Spanish books to students and families at COPA soccer tournaments in Dallas and Houston; and providing more than 50,000 books to New Orleans students in 19 schools.

Lorretta Johnson and children at First Book distribution in Baltimore, MD.

The Baltimore book distribution, which AFT Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson and Executive Vice President Francine Lawrence also helped out with, is a huge endeavor. Educators, public schools, community groups and other educational programs serving children in need have registered for the free or low-cost new books. Volunteers from the AFT, AFT-Maryland, the Baltimore Teachers Union, Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Operating Engineers have sorted the books. Baltimore-area groups will be picking up their books at the warehouse this week.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake is the first mayor to partner with First Book to secure book storage space. "The partnership with the Baltimore Teachers Union, the American Federation of Teachers, First Book and my office is a great effort to promote literacy," she says. "Grade-level reading proficiency is so important that we need to muster up all the resources we can, as a community, to ensure that our students have the reading skills they need to succeed in life. If children don't have access to high-quality books at home, they're more likely to read below proficiency levels."

To date, the AFT and more than 80 local affiliates in 20 states have worked with First Book to distribute books. The AFT is responsible for signing up about 20 percent of First Book's national network of educators and community leaders serving disadvantaged children, giving them ongoing access to quality books and educational resources.

AFT members also have helped First Book develop reading lists on topics such as anti-bullying, healthy living and subjects that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards. [AFT press release/Photos by John Harrington]

December 4, 2013