Booksellers Share Tips on How to Start Working With Title I Schools

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

At last week’s Winter Institute in Denver, the ABC Children’s Group at ABA presented the education session “Partnering for Diversity — Working With School Title I Coordinators.”

Missy Matthews, Shelly Wilhelm, Anne Menon, and Angie Tally

The panel featured Shelly Wilhelm and Anne Menon of Denver’s The Bookies and Missy Matthews, the Title I coordinator for the Cherry Creek School District in Colorado’s Arapahoe County. The session was moderated by Angie Tally of Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

The Title I federal grant program aims to ensure that students living in poverty have access to a strong education, particularly in the subjects of reading and math. Funding is provided to individual states, which then allocate the monies to eligible school districts based on the percentage of students receiving free and reduced price lunches. A majority of the funding goes toward program staffing, but some is used for supplies, including books and other reading materials. Programs established through Title I funding can include before- and after-school, summer, and preschool education, as well as a variety of classroom initiatives during the academic year.

Among other Title I initiatives, The Bookies has worked with area schools to help build classroom libraries by inviting teachers to the store for a book talk delivered by store staff. At Country Bookshop, Tally has helped coordinate “one book, one school” programs, as well as in-class author talks that provide every child with a copy of the book.

Tally has found it helpful to include Country Bookshop’s Title I plans in publishers’ author event grids, noting program details as well as sales expectations. “After those events are over, I send recaps back to the publicist,” Tally said. “I copy the marketing people, I copy my rep, and I copy anybody else at that publisher who I can think of, and I tell them how many books I sold. And then I say, ‘What do you have for me next?’ because the same school will do the same thing next year.” She also talks to publishers about purchasing books for Title I programs through a business-to-business (B2B) account to receive a deeper discount.

To arrange Title I events and their associated book purchases, booksellers will need to work with their local Title I coordinator or director, who can be on the district level or school level and can include principals, literacy coordinators, media specialists, or instructional coaches, among others. Matthews suggested that booksellers visit the websites of area schools to see if Title I information is available but, she added, getting in at the ground level — simply talking to a classroom teacher — is a good start.

At The Bookies, Wilhelm and Menon have built relationships with Title I program directors, classroom teachers, and school librarians by hosting teacher events and open houses — which promote the store’s great stock of children’s books and professional texts, as well as its knowledgeable staff — and bringing authors into schools. “Because we have 40 years in the community, we have a huge base of customers that a lot of bookstores don’t have. It doesn’t happen overnight,” said Wilhelm.

Menon, who heads the designated school order department at The Bookies, also credits the store’s longstanding presence in the community for its relationships with schools, but said continually having a retired teacher on staff at the store has been essential. “Teachers like to come to The Bookies — they think it’s a wonderful place. That’s the relationship that then goes back to their school,” she said.

Teachers have to get creative in their uses of Title I funding, and The Bookies serves as a place for teachers to learn about what’s new, what’s relevant, and how these titles can be used in a unique way, said Matthews. As a Title I coordinator, she added, making the physical trip to the bookstore is important, as “something about ordering from the catalog doesn’t get us the classroom libraries that our kids care about.”

A current focus of the Cherry Creek School District is ensuring the right books make it into students’ hands, something a well-read bookstore staff can help teachers coordinate. “In the Title I setting, we’re serving a very diverse community,” said Matthews, including students with an array of languages and socioeconomic and cultural differences. “If we don’t have the kinds of texts that our kids care enough about, teaching them to read is a really hard thing. Having that expert staff is something that’s really important to us.”

Menon agreed. “It’s important that we as a bookstore understand what the schools need. Diversity is such a big thing, and our staff is aware of that, so they know how to point the teachers in the right direction,” she said. By working with teachers regularly, staff members at The Bookies tend to know area school curriculums, including subjects and topics for each grade. “It’s about our customer service. It’s about what we can offer above and beyond. We are valuable.”

In response to audience questions about the types of diverse books to suggest to schools, session attendee Elizabeth Bluemle from Vermont’s Flying Pig Bookstore shared details about a database she has created of 1,200 titles that feature main characters of color but in which race is not the story’s driving force.

Other audience members offered suggestions for furthering connections with area schools, including: sharing picture book F&Gs and blads with teachers; hosting an education day with bookstore staff to help them to understand what is being studied at each grade level in the state; and providing information to customers and the general public to show that shopping with a local bookstore puts money back into a community, in particular tax dollars that go straight back to area schools.

Communities and families also take an active role in building Title I programming for their local schools, so it’s important that those involved know their local bookstores and how their children can access books. “Because we have to have those parents’ voices in the design of our plans, the more they’re aware of and connected to those resources for literature in the community, the easier it is for us to have those conversations,” said Matthews.