12 KIDS, 108 BOOKS, A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIESDec 1, 2021 0
How one of Australia’s smallest Indigenous schools is building literacy, one donated book at a time.
There’s something about seeing a kid completely absorbed in a book that makes your heart soar. But for students of Baryulgil Public School, one of the smallest schools in NSW, having a book to call their own is a challenge.
“Due to socio-economic factors and isolation – there are no commercial services in Baryulgil and we are 85kms from the nearest town – our students don’t have the opportunity to purchase books from things like book fairs or store catalogues,” says the school’s Principal, Ashli Ware.
Baryulgil Public is one of 779 schools that have been fortunate enough to be supported by Books in Homes, a charity that provides books of choice to children living in remote, disadvantaged, and low socio-economic circumstances.
With just 12 students and 100% Indigenous enrolment, having access to programs like Books in Homes has made a huge difference to the kids in Baryulgil, who normally have a very limited selection of books to choose from.
“We have a mobile library van that comes through once a fortnight from Grafton,” Ashli explains, “but the borrowed books are kept at school until the next fortnight and the children don’t take them home.”
“And that’s one of the best things about the Books in Homes program,” Ashli says, “because these books belong to the kids forever. They get to take them home for keeps!”
The program gives each child nine books per year, which they choose themselves from a selection of carefully vetted titles.
“The kids love, love, love to get these books!” says Ashli.
“The younger kids, in particular, have responded to them. They’ll lie on the floor for hours some days just reading the books or discussing what was in the pictures.”
The literacy link to success
Research shows that lower engagement with reading at an early age is directly linked to poorer literacy later in life, poorer educational and social outcomes, and less occupational success. One long-term study across 27 nations found that having books at home is as important as a parent’s education level when it comes to a child’s educational attainment and academic achievement.
Ashli has been blown away by the quality of books received through the Books in Homes program.
“They’re really beautiful books. The quality is outstanding and the fact they can take them home is really special.”
Ashli says that having books they can keep at home has been particularly useful during the recent lockdown.
“While we were learning from home, I received some photos of kids, lying on blankets in yards, reading their books—that was really special to see.”
A key educational engagement tool
For Ashli, an avid reader herself, instilling a love of reading has been an important part of her role as Principal.
“I’m a huge book fan, I read every day,” she says. “And I read to the children every day.”
She says having a wider range of books on hand has made it easier for the teachers to engage students.
“The children read in guided reading groups every day and sometimes they choose one of the books we received through the Books in Homes program rather than the guided readers. So, it gives us more opportunities to engage with other books rather than just using the standard readers on offer,” she says.
Ashli and the teachers also use the Books in Homes titles when teaching other subject areas such as spelling and writing and says the kids have really responded to the variety.
“My next focus is on improving the kids’ writing skills and I see that quality literature will really open doors for inspiration for their writing.”
Indigenous content creates a sense of connection
Around 66% of the titles in the Books in Homes program are Australian content, including 25% written or illustrated by Indigenous creators.
The Indigenous literature is important for her students, Ashi says, because they feel more connected and engaged, particularly when it comes to writing.
“They feel as though they’re writing for a purpose and it’s more meaningful to them because it’s their culture,” she says.
Books in Homes have a bold vision to create an Australia where every child and family has access to books in the home. If you’re interested in helping fulfil this vision, here’s how you can get involved.