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Hundreds of Katy ISD students receive free books through organization in honor of Barbara Bush

December 30, 2018

As the 2019 year begins, roughly 700 Katy Independent School District elementary students will be reading brand-new books courtesy of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation.

Christmas came early for children at Bear Creek Elementary School when it became the first Katy ISD selected as recipient of the “My Home Library” initiative; Just days before the holiday break, the school received an estimated 3,000 books. That’s six new books for each child.

Principal Dr. Lorena Zertuche, who’s been the principal for five years, said she felt “like a trailblazer.” She hopes other schools in Katy ISD can benefit from the program, she said.

“It’s awesome being the first,” Zertuche said. “It just feels like someone made a huge investment in our school and that our kids are in good hands. To know that we have those strong partnerships from the community… it’s a very huge lasting legacy of Barbara Bush and her commitment to literacy. We are very fortunate to be recipients of that legacy.”

Each year, the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation through its My Home Library program donates thousands of brand-new books to children in need at Houston area schools in low-income neighborhoods. In 2018, the organization helped create more than 10,669 home libraries for Houston children.

President Julie Finck said Bear Creek Elementary became a candidate for the program when a volunteer - former principal Mrs. Sandra Schenkir - informed the organization that hundreds of books were lost when students’ homes were destroyed in the floods that devasted most of Bear Creek Village following Hurricane Harvey last fall.

“She brought it to our attention that some of the schools (in Katy ISD) were impacted in Harvey and that Bear Creek specifically has over 70 percent of students who are economically disadvantaged,” Finck said. “We made the decision that we really wanted to serve that school this year.”

Book Desert

The organization contacted Zertuche and her staff to learn about how the school was helping students rebuild their at-home libraries.

Years ago, Zertuche made it a personal goal to increase the literacy of children at Bear Creek Elementary School.

“We are basically considered to be in a book desert, meaning there are less than 100 books found in the home,” Zertuche said. “When we realized this I said, ‘Well we have to get out of the desert.’ We have to empower our kids with the tools they need.”

For five summers, staff at the elementary school put books in the hands of students in an effort to build their home libraries.

But tragedy struck when Harvey filled the Addicks Reservoir and floodwaters submerged hundreds of homes in the area. While the school itself didn’t flood, Harvey flooded the houses of 70 percent of Bear Creek students, some having to be rescued from the second story of their homes.

Students “felt the loss of having their home libraries thrown away because they were flooded or washed away,” Zertuche said.

When the school librarian created an Amazon wishlist after Harvey, the school began receiving thousands of used books from all over the world.

This past summer, Bear Creek Elementary School faculty was able to distribute books to students a total of seven times with each student receiving at least five used books.

‘A literate community’

“We have just been handing books out at every library night, every spirit night, every family engagement night,” Zertuche said. “We just continue to put books in their hands because that’s one of our goals. To be a literate community and to have a culture of reading and of learning.”

It’s a story that inspired organizers at the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation.

Through a special relationship with several book publishers, the organization can purchase books anywhere between 40 to 80 percent off list price, Finck said, adding that for a school the size of Bear Creek Elementary, it spent about $21,000 on books or $30 per student.

The organization receives it funding through donors, who can either sponsor an individual child or donate a lump sum to the organization itself who then uses the money to purchase books for the schools in its database, Finck said, adding that once a school gets on the list, it stays there.

Anna Baker, a library media specialist at the elementary school, said the entire process, which included students, faculty and parents, took about six weeks from selecting the books to their arrival in students’ homes.

“Everybody was excited from the very young kindergartners to the 5th graders when they received their books,” Baker said. “Literacy is important because it is a gateway to everything else. It is the gateway into exploring and to build your knowledge, not only in reading but in all areas, whether it’s science or history or the arts. Literacy allows the child to use their imagination.”

Bear Creek is predominantly Hispanic with 73 percent of the population economically disadvantaged, according to a 2015-2016 Texas Academic Performance Report (TAPR) by the Texas Education Agency.

About 480 students at the school are Hispanic, 84 are Black/African American and 96 students are White, according to demographics provided by the district.

“What they are doing at the Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation is just amazing and an honor to Barbara Bush,” Baker said. “For everything that she has done for literacy in the Houston area and beyond. It’s amazing. I wish you could see the kid’s reaction.”

michelle.iracheta@chron.com

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