Merritt principal distributes free books to students every month

Published 9:19 am Tuesday, April 16, 2019

NILES — Merritt Elementary School students from kindergarten to second grade will get to pick a new book to add to their personal libraries every month, thanks to a donation from an Indiana bookseller.

Principal Matt Severin said he wanted to start an initiative that would connect more children at the school with more reading material. Now, the project has been dubbed #MerrittOnAMission.

Severin figured that if he were to give roughly 300 students a new book every month, that would shake out to about 2,700 books a year.

“The more books that we can get into our kids’ hands and at school the better,” Severin said. “The problem is that’s expensive.”

Fortunately, Severin got connected with Better World Books and the organization offered to donate 3,500 gently-used books in August. The bookseller will make another donation in August for the next school year.   

Severin then had to find a place to store and sort the books before he could begin distribution. Since January, Severin has been taking one day a month to wheel a cart piled high with books down the school hallway and into the classrooms. When students see that cart, the atmosphere is akin to finding presents on Christmas morning.

“They are really excited,” Severin said. “Kids will tell me about the books that they pick and that they are excited about books.”

Severin said a key to getting children excited about the project is that they get to pick their own book to read. Severin said he believes that children are more likely to want to read if they get to choose the book.

The Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in part inspired Severin. Children who sign up get a free book on their birthday through the age of 5.

“We thought what a great idea if we could find a way to continue that concept,” Severin said. “Kids would get a brand-new book to add to their personal libraries every single month. We know the more literature and print that kids have exposure to, the more school ready that they will be and the more successful they will be.”

To continue the effort, Merritt Elementary will be hosting several book drives and collecting any books that the public may wish to donate for the cause.

“The work now is how do we maintain this and keep it supported?” Severin said. “As kids get older, they outgrow their books. So, we are going to start asking families to donate their books back.”

For Severin, the initiative is about more than giving a book to a child.

“I go back to the hashtag [#MerrittOnAMission]. We really are,” Severin said. “We are on a mission to empower our kids. We know the more print exposure our kids have, the more ready they will be [to learn]. This is just one more piece to that puzzle.”