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NOLA Readers 2.0: Library Field Trip Program 'Made Kids Want to Read'

Every Monday for the past two months, second graders from public schools across the city have visited the Main Library and the Louisiana Children’s Museum as part of the NOLA Readers 2.0 program. This literacy-based field trip partnership is centered around Derrick Barnes’ award-winning book I Am Every Good Thing. Designed by education experts at the Library and Children’s Museum, NOLA Readers 2.0 aims to inspire a love for literacy and reading.

For Benjamin Franklin Elementary School’s 92 participating second graders, the trip achieved that goal, according to Kelly Griffin, the school’s K-2 mentor teacher. Griffin helped coordinate the school’s field trip and said the program made a significant impact on their students. 

“For a lot of the kids, this was their first time going to the Library or the Children’s Museum. It gave them the space to explore new places and show off their creative sides, and they really responded well to that,” Griffin said. 

The visit also marked these students’ first-ever field trip, Griffin said.

“These kids, they’re in second grade. So, their whole school experience has been affected by COVID, which means they haven’t had the same opportunities that older students did, in terms of activities like field trips,” she explained. “This made their experience even more significant, and in a lot of ways, made an even greater impact on the kids.” 

Griffin said the students returned to school raving about both the Library and the Children’s Museum. 

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in reading since the trip, and I think it’s a direct result of this program,” she said. “This trip made the kids want to read. There’s no doubt in my mind, and I think that’s wonderful.”

After the field trip, all students were given a free copy of I Am Every Good Thing, which Griffin said also helped inspire kids to want to keep reading and building their own libraries at home. They’ve also been asking to go back to the Library, Griffin said, and dozens of Ben Franklin students have since gotten their first Library cards. 

“There was so much interest in the Library after this trip, we ended up sending home Library card applications with every student in the school, to encourage more Library use and more reading engagement across the board,” she said. 

Increasing interest in reading and literacy rates in this crucial age group is a core part of the NOLA Readers mission, according to OYF Deputy Director Anamaria Villamarin-Lupin.  

“With only 34 percent of New Orleans third graders reading at their target level, it’s vital that we intervene through strategic and unique literacy building efforts across the city,” Villamarin-Lupin said. “A love of reading can make all the difference in a student’s educational journey, which is our number one goal in this program. It’s so wonderful to hear that, at the ground level, these efforts are truly making a difference to the people who matter most –– the children.” 

The field trip itself consists of a variety of activities at the Library and the Children’s Museum, centered around the themes in I Am Every Good Thing, which features a series of affirmations that Barnes wrote with his sons in mind. 

“As a Black father of four Black sons, I’m very conscious of the imagery and stereotypes often used to depict Black children in America. It’s definitely better than it was when I was growing up, but you still see the same types of characters over and over again. I wrote this book to show beautiful Black children that they are worthy, they are valuable, and they are everything good in the world,” Barnes said.

Barnes said he’s honored NOLA Readers chose his book for their pilot program. Beyond creating positive works that center Black youth, Barnes said his goal is always to inspire kids to keep learning, growing, and supporting one another. Having his book be the focus of a program designed to get students interested in reading is in direct alignment with that mission. 

“I wanted to use synonyms and adjectives that this age group probably never use, but when they hear them coming out of their own lips it, makes them feel good, makes them feel smart and knowledgeable,” Barnes said. “Hearing that something that I’ve made actually hits this mark and touches the demographic that I’m actually writing for, it’s just an extreme blessing.”

Amy Wander is the Library’s head of youth programming and helped design and implement this program. For her, viewing the Library through these students’ eyes is “a special experience.” 

“It’s been such a joy to hear them ‘ooh and ahh’ as we walk them up to the youth area on the second floor. For most of them, this is their first visit to the Main Library, or even any public library at all. It makes my whole week to hear them say they can’t wait to come back as soon as possible,” Wander said. “To watch them realize that all of this is there for them –– and to see them light up when we tell them there are even more Library locations in their neighborhoods –– is simply magical.”

Shannon Blady is the Children’s Museums’ chief learning officer who helped create the LCM’s portion of the NOLA Readers program, which she said she was “thrilled” to do.

“Students and teachers have reported such positive feedback, including the excitement of play, of course, but also enjoying the story, the discussions, and the resources that we offered,” Blady said, adding that the students “loved” walking away from the experience with their own copy of Barnes’ book.

In addition to Ben Franklin, classes from seven other schools participated in the program so far –– totaling 657 students. The spring session wraps up Monday, May 15, but more trips will be offered in the fall, thanks to support from the New Orleans Public Library Foundation and the City’s Office of Youth and Families.

In honor of the end of the first session of the NOLA Readers 2.0 program, Barnes will visit Algiers Regional Library on Saturday, May 13 at 10:30am for an author talk, reading, and book signing. Like the students who participated in the NOLA Readers Field Trip program, all children will leave with a free copy of I Am Every Good Thing.

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