Books Before iPads for Better Future in SoCal Reading Program

"All kids, no matter their background, like to read and want a book to read."

An elementary school in Watts battling dwindling resources found a unique partnership that is giving their community new hope, and students an advantage, by turning to books and not iPads to help children learn.

At the school library at the 107th Street Elementary School in Watts, there isn't an iPad, or iPhone, or laptop in sight.

The students seem to think all of the books, and the story time, are a little old fashioned.

"I like how it's old-school because everyone now is using their phones to read," Joanna Perez, a 10-year-old student, said.

Despite it being "old-school" in Perez's eyes, the library is new: it was repainted, restocked, and remade a year ago all based on the idea that books — not technology — would give the children a chance at a future.

"All kids, no matter their background, like to read and want a book to read," Rebecca Constantino, executive director of Access Books, said.

Constantino founded Access Books which has redone about 250 school libraries in low-income communities across California.

Drab and outdated libraries are painted and given new life with thousands of new books.

At 107th Street Elementary, the number of books more than tripled

"I love to read about hippos," Manuel Cervantes, 9-year-old student, said.

Before the transformation, outdated books were a problem.

"When children checked out books, a lot of books were outdated. We had a book that declared Pluto as a planet," Dr. Amber Wilton, assistant principal, said.

School libraries throughout California have suffered under budget cuts, and parents in wealthier communities often fill the gap. But nearly all of the students here get free or reduced lunches.

The principal said 60 percent of students are below where they should be in reading level.

Experts said that means a greater risk of not going to college, and winding up in prison. They're convinced books can help change that.

"I think if you love reading your whole life path will change," Constantino said.

Students seem to agree.

"Reading actually inspires me," Mia Mandujano, 10, said. "When I'm home, I like reading sometimes. I pick up a book and I just read."

School officials say reading offers something other forms of technology cannot.

"If you read there's nothing you can't do you can fly a plane you can cook you can imagine yourself anywhere in the world through a book," Wilton said.

Outside of the library, books aren't so easy to find. The nearest library other than the 107th Street Elementary library is more than four miles away.

"In our ZIP code, there isn't a Barnes & Noble," Walton said.

Because of this, the library has become a cherished place where not only imaginations can grow, but also confidence.

"Maybe if you go somewhere and you don't know how to read, then you're not going to be smart," Leiani Leonard, 9, said.

Students may be beginning to realize that they don't have to be connected to technology to be connected to life.

For more information on the program, visit the Access Books site.

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