The “Programming & Partnerships: Working with Title 1 Schools” education session at the American Booksellers Association’s seventh annual Children’s Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, featured four booksellers who shared how they were able to create strong partnerships with local Title 1 schools, which have large concentrations of low-income students and receive supplemental federal funds toward meeting these students’ educational goals.
The official definition of a Title 1 school is one where a minimum of 40 percent of the students must be from “low-income” families, as determined by the qualification for a free or reduced-price lunch. The Title 1 program was created by the federal government to help bridge the gap between school districts’ low-income students and other students.
The June 27 session featured panelists who have ongoing profitable partnerships with Title 1 schools and have been successful in bringing in authors and hosting book fairs at these schools: Rebekah Shoaf, owner of Boogie Down Books in the Bronx, New York, who served as the panel’s moderator; Angie Tally, children’s section manager at The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina; Cecilia Cackley, children’s book buyer at East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C.; and Kim Krug, owner of Monkey See, Monkey Do in Clarence, New York.
The panelists shared tips with attendees on how to approach Title 1 schools, and how these partnerships can be effective and profitable; how to assist a school in maximizing monies received from a granting organization; and how to build community goodwill through partnership with a Title 1 school. The session also served as a chance for booksellers to look at any assumptions they may inadvertently have made about what kinds of programs teachers, families, and students at Title 1 schools might be interested in.
Tally said the county in North Carolina where her store is located is very large, so there is one school with a wealthy population right next to another where most of the students are children of incarcerated parents or come from families with a single parent, but The Country Bookshop, she emphasized, is committed to working with all of these schools in equal measure.
“The partnerships that I offer involve looking at each school and seeing what it is we can do with them and for them,” said Tally, “and also keeping in mind that the Title 1 schools have certain amounts of money that the non-Title 1 schools don’t have and making sure that I offer programming that is equivalent for both of those places. Title 1 schools have access to monies that they have to use for certain things, and they have very regimented guidelines, so we try to make sure we figure out what is appropriate for each school.”
Cackley told attendees that while East City Bookshop’s partnerships with Title 1 schools are primarily for author visits — as they are for most of the schools the store works with — they also try to work individually with each school and ask that administration what they see as the need in their school, and how the store can support their efforts toward reading and literacy.
“We’ve also done reading field trips where some of our schools have brought a class or several classes to the bookstore and have found funding so that the students can choose the books they want for their classroom library, and we give them a discount so they can purchase them from the bookstore,” said Cackley. “We’ve also done field trips to the store where we talk a little bit about running a small business; we have several middle and high schools that make learning about finances and business a key part of their curriculum.”
Krug, whose store is located in Clarence, New York, a higher-income, majority white neighborhood just outside of Buffalo, said she wanted her work at the bookstore to reach other parts of the community and to be able to touch the lives of the children and families who need it most.
“I really wanted to find a way to bridge that gap and to reach our city of Buffalo where there was a greater need and greater opportunity to work with the schools and with children,” said Krug. “In 2014, we started the Western New York Children’s Book Expo, which was a community event open to the entire western New York community. In doing that we were also able to work with a lot of schools in the inner city that were Title 1 schools.”
While an $8,500 grant from James Patterson was instrumental in starting the children’s book expo. Krug said the store has also formed creative partnerships with corporations and businesses to help fund opportunities for local students to attend the expo and for authors to visit their schools.
Shoaf told booksellers that since Boogie Down Books is bookstore without its own brick-and-mortar space, partnerships are a natural part of her business model. “We partner with a lot of different businesses and organizations and schools to bring the things that you might find in an independent children’s bookstore to different communities,” said Shoaf. “In the Bronx, 85 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, so 100 percent of the schools that we work with are Title 1. The partnerships that we’ve had are probably very much like those that most indie bookstores have, they’re just funded in different ways.”
In its one year of existence, Shoaf said Boogie Down has organized author visits at Title 1 schools; hosted parent book clubs at schools, including for Michelle Obama’s Becoming; led parent literacy workshops modeling how to read at home with kids; furnished bulk orders for schools; facilitated professional development for teachers; hosted store interns from Title 1 schools; and organized pop-up shops at Title 1 schools as well.
After each bookseller described their individual relationships with Title 1 schools, Shoaf explained to attendees how working with these schools is not just a positive thing for their communities, but it will likely be a profitable enterprise for their store.
“In my experience, the schools themselves have a great deal of funding that is earmarked for books in particular, so if they are going to spend that money somewhere buying books, it should be with you, the independent bookstore in their community,” said Shoaf. “You can also offer them the kinds of vibrant, rich, exciting, amazing, personal experiences they can get coming to the bookstore that the other places where they might spend that book money will not, so building these relationships is really, really important.”
But when it comes to cultivating these types of partnerships at schools, Krug told booksellers that knowing the right person to speak to can sometimes be a bit of a stab in the dark: sometimes it’s the principal of the school, sometimes the head librarian, sometimes the reading specialist, so booksellers will need to be persistent in their outreach.
“You really do have to navigate each individual school or area and identify who that passionate person is within the school,” said Krug. “My experience is if you get a door shut with the librarian, maybe because she is just not sure how to navigate funding or who to go to, there may also be a reading specialist in the school who is incredibly astute on how to get funding or who is really passionate about trying to bring in an author or get books for her students. Then that is the connection you make and it grows from there.”
Another option for outreach is to find an advocate on the school’s PTO (parent-teacher organization), said Krug. Outside the school, booksellers should look to make connections with local businesses within the community, as many tie in literacy to their mission and could be willing to adopt a local school. This year, an area business is donating $15,000 to adopt 16 local schools, she said: each will receive author visits and each school library will receive a signed set of books for the classroom.
Cackley recommended also reaching out to individual teachers at the middle and high school levels who attend the store’s book clubs or educator nights, and asking them whether their schools might be interested in hosting an author. Booksellers can also encourage them to ask for permission to bring their students to an evening event at the store.
“We also have a list of local businesses — for us, it’s mostly realtors — that sponsor author visits for particular schools and purchase the books that get donated to the library and the classrooms,” said Cackley. “In some cases, they have been able to donate enough that each kid gets a book, though that’s often a partnership between the sponsor and the publisher.”
For her part, Tally suggests reaching out to service organizations for sponsorship, like the local Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club, or Lions or Elks Clubs, as well as to local banks. Three years ago, she founded a nonprofit so that these groups could give charitable donations that are tax-deductible and also purchase books from publishers at a B2B discount.
At the end of the hour-long session, Shoaf recommended that attendees do three things after the conference to work on furthering their relationships with local Title 1 schools. First, she said, send requests to publishers and arrange author visits for the upcoming school year; next, start identifying contacts at their local schools and begin reaching out to them; and finally, create a one-sheet of their store’s events that includes key store employee contact information, as well as examples of programming they want to bring to schools.