Crocker Farm book bags: Kids get gifts to grow on

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  • Crocker Farm School library paraeducator Andrea Tulenko-Catlin, right, waves to fifth grader Lucia Jacoby after she picked up a set of books outside the Amherst elementary school as part of the Crocker C.A.R.E. Home Reading Book Bag program on Monday. Principal Derek Shea is at center. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Crocker Farm School first grader Juniper Westgate holds up a copy of “Alma and How She Got Her Name” by Juana Martinez-Neal, one of the books she received in the Crocker C.A.R.E. Home Reading Book Bag program at the Amherst elementary on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Crocker Farm School physical education teacher Dustin James, left, PGO co-chair Farah Ameen and Librarian Waleska Santiago-Centeno, right, check off the names of students they’re about to deliver books to outside the Amherst elementary school as part of the Crocker C.A.R.E. Home Reading Book Bag program on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Crocker Farm School Librarian Waleska Santiago-Centeno, left, greets first grader Juniper Westgate as she and her father, Matthew Westgate, arrive at the Amherst elementary school to pick up a set of books in the Crocker C.A.R.E. Home Reading Book Bag program on Monday. At right is Principal Derek Shea. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Crocker Farm School Librarian Waleska Santiago-Centeno, right, delivers a set of books to fifth grader Lucia Jacoby as part of the Crocker C.A.R.E. Home Reading Book Bag program at the Amherst elementary on Monday. Standing next to Santiago-Centeno is Principal Derek Shea. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Crocker Farm School Librarian Waleska Santiago-Centeno talks about the Crocker C.A.R.E. Home Reading Book Bag program at the Amherst elementary school on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 12/22/2020 4:47:19 PM

AMHERST — Pulling out the picture book “Alma and How She Got Her Name” from a paper bag, first grader Juniper Westgate expressed delight at the gift.

“I think it’s kind of cool,” Juniper said from the back seat of a vehicle parked in front of Crocker Farm School Monday afternoon, telling her father, Matthew Westgate, that she might begin reading “Alma,” or another book in the bag, “The All-Together Quilt,” as they ventured from the school to their next stop.

Juniper, 7, was among more than 400 students who received age-appropriate books with social justice themes — either picked up drive-thru style or delivered — as part of the Crocker C.A.R.E. Home Reading Bags.

Organized by school librarian Waleska Santiago-Centeno, the program is providing each child at the school two or three books they will be able to keep, most with multicultural themes and many emphasizing stories about African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans.

“We’re trying to have books that are both socially relevant and socially empowering, and academically enriching,” Santiago-Centeno said.

Santiago-Centeno said she draws from is what is known as whole person librarianship, providing access to books while also assessing community concerns. Santiago-Centeno said this is also seen as cultural humility, defined as being a provider who strives to help her students learn about and respect the cultural traditions, values and beliefs of others.

This has always been the case at her library, where in normal times the walls and cases provide a world view. One cabinet, for instance, focuses on Native American peoples, and the library website continues to showcase environmental and racial justice and empathy for others.

The book program, supported with federal CARES Act money, is also a way to do more outreach to children during the pandemic. The families get to keep the books, making it safer than a process in which she would have to check out and deliver books and then quarantine them when they are returned.

Andrea Tulenko-Catlin, paraeducator at the school library, said there has been lots of excitement from parents and staff, which will be incorporating some of the books into the curriculum.

Tulenko-Catlin also notes that equity is an objective: “A lot of students don’t have books at home and we want to make sure that they have books, too.”

In addition to “Alma and How She Got Her Name,” written by Juana Martinez-Neal, the books include “Sulwe,” a children’s fiction picture book by actress and Hampshire College alumna LupitaNyong’o; “Dream Builder,” a story about the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington by architect Philip Freelon; and “The Teachers March: How Selma’s Teachers Changed History.”

Crocker Farm Principal Derek Shea said social equity is an important part of the curriculum at the school and that the books will give students the opportunity to stretch themselves.

“We need to get more books in the hands of students for their access to knowledge,” Shea said.

He added that this could be seen as a political act in combating racism and economic exploitation.

“Each teacher will utilize and think through relevant issues in this country and in the world,” Shea said.

The Parent-Guardian Organization helped with donating the bags and providing volunteers to bring the children the books. Each bag also contained a bookmark with phrases such as “Be Kind” made by Tulenko-Catlin.

Fifth grader Lucia Jacoby, 10, said she is looking forward to reading the books and that she felt the program is “very kind.”

Santiago-Centeno said she would love to purchase and deliver more books if money is available.

“I’m hoping to do this twice a year,” Santiago-Centeno said. “That would be wonderful.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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