Chandra Perkins Finds A Need and Attempts to Bridge the Gap
For Amarillo Underprivileged Children
Chandra Perkins, an AISD educator and literacy leader since 2002, felt the first sparks of inspiration to give books away when she learned about the Bookmobile concept from friends. Essentially, the Bookmobile served as a mobile lending library. As a reading specialist, this concept struck a cord with Chandra, but she knew that families with limited income didn’t need one more due date to remember. So instead of lending, she was determined to give the books away to increase book ownership for children growing up without. In June of 2016, Chandra decided to take some books to the park at Mesa Vera Elementary where one of her best friends, Charla Cobb, is the principal. She brought 100 books to the park and found 8 children there that day. She offered to read to them and after they read, she told them they could choose any book they wanted to take home and keep.
In middle-income families, children likely have many books in their rooms, sometimes even hundreds in their home. But for Amarillo’s economically disadvantaged children (about 68%), the story is drastically different. In fact, 2 out of 3 children in poverty have zero books in their homes. Statistically, having books in the home is the biggest predictor of reading success. Chandra knows this to be a fact when she tests these children at the end of the school year in May and retests at the beginning of the school year in September. These disadvantaged children who don’t have books in their homes can become victim to what is known as the “summer slide”, resulting in a regression of reading proficiency, a sort of “3 steps forward, 1 step back” phenomenon. This loss has also been proven to be cumulative. By the end of 6th grade, children who lose reading skills in the summer are on average 2 years behind their peers. These children are no less bright or gifted and they are every bit as able, they simply don’t have access to the tools they need to succeed - an early introduction to books in the home. Chandra’s motivation is to level the playing field for these children.
After the first day at the park in the summer of 2016, Chandra was on a mission: “I just made a promise to God that I would give away as many books as He could send me.” Soon after that, people began hearing of Chandra’s mission and new boxes of children’s books started appearing on her doorstep. She began storing them in her garage and going back to the park every week and letting the children have as many books as they wanted. By the end of the summer, there were as many as 80 children meeting Chandra at the park each week to share a story and choose free books. There were sometimes over 20 volunteers coming to read to kids and help them pick books they would love. Soon Chandra’s garage was overflowing with book donations and her church began to help store them for her. In March 2017, Chandra was contacted by Snack Pak 4 Kids who offered her a space in their warehouse.
When the 2016-2017 school year began, Chandra felt determined to stay faithful to that early promise to keep giving away books as they were being provided. Storybridge then slowly began to figure out a way to bring free access to quality children’s books to the highest-need Title 1 schools. Storybridge has now grown so much they are able to host FREE book fairs and invite the entire student body AND all of their younger siblings. They are able to provide for an average of 250 children each month as they visit a different school. This year they will bring a Storybridge Free Book Fair to 16 area schools. Books are sorted by age group and set up in the school cafeteria after school. The children are allowed to self-select their own books, a research-based decision that is important to Chandra. At many of the Storybridge Free Book Fairs there are hundreds of children and parents lined up at the door. Chandra says, “It’s so exciting! The anticipation is like Black Friday - you open the doors and they all rush in. And it’s all about books!” Chandra’s goal is to be able to serve all Title 1 schools in the district. According to Chandra, “My heart has grown 14 sizes since the beginning of Storybridge. More than ever, I believe that literacy in the home is one of the earliest tools against generational poverty. It’s not just about a bedtime story for tonight; it’s about changing the story for the rest of that child’s life.”
Storybridge has become a rapidly growing community movement. As of August 2019, they have distributed over 78,000 books to our Amarillo children. They initiated the 1st Year Teacher Book Grant program, gifting 100 classroom library books each to 21 brand new elementary teachers. They have also launched a Little Free Library program in partnership with the City of Amarillo, ensuring 24/7 access to children’s books for our children with very limited resources. Dumas has adopted the Storybridge model and is sustaining their own Storybridge Dumas program, run by Kinsey Bellar, a Kindergarten teacher.
Storybridge accepts donations of gently-used books that can be dropped off at several locations around town that can be found on their website at www.storybridgeama.org . Book donations must be for children under 12 and in excellent condition. If you have questions about large donations of children’s books or organizing a book drive for Storybridge, email firstname.lastname@example.org . Monetary donations are always welcome and are used to purchase books in Spanish and books featuring diverse characters the children can relate to. Storybridge is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and all donations are tax-deductible. Volunteers are also needed! If you would like to support this mission with your volunteer time, email email@example.com.
Chandra has taught at San Jacinto Christian Academy, Rogers Elementary, and Windsor Elementary. She has served AISD as a Curriculum Specialist and district literacy trainer. She is now working part-time for AISD, supporting the teachers at Emerson Elementary. She is an expert when it comes to elementary literacy and can back up facts and figures with data. Beyond her expertise, she has a passion for these children in need and providing them the books needed to help them succeed. Chandra has the knowledge to see a need with our elementary children in poverty and the passion to actually do something that can make a difference in their lives. Chandra is smart, open, humble and kind and Amarillo is so lucky to have her represent our area little ones in need.