5th Grade Book Drive

School News
November 6, 2018- When Laurie Stavisky told her fifth-grade language arts students that there was a school in Savannah, Georgia that could use their help, she had no idea what kind of positive energy her class was about to unleash upon the world. What started as a project-based learning challenge became a flood of initiative, teamwork, baked goods and books… boxes upon boxes of books.  

All Stavisky had to do was pose the problem to her class: this school, Andrea B. Williams Elementary in Georgia, was a “diamond in the rough.” Her mother mentored children at the school, and however incredible their teachers and bright their students, A. B. Williams was going through a tough transition. An upgrade to their campus left the students and teachers shifting between buildings while their new school was being built. Once complete, their new facility was beautiful, fresh, clean and furnished ⎯ however, while visiting the school with her mother, Stavisky noticed that they were missing something very important. 


“There were often no bookshelves in the classrooms, and the shelves in the school library, especially those housing chapter books, were few and far between,” Stavisky says. “I presented the problem to my students and asked if they might have some ideas or interest in getting involved. Eighteen hands shot up and I’ve been trying to keep up with them ever since.”

The students leapt into action faster than Stavisky could even give them directions ⎯ the fifth-grade flock was making moves, so she sat back to see how things would go. 

First, they charted out all of their ideas together, then they started collecting books and compiling them by genre. It was a unique way for these young learners to explore English and literature, to explore their sense of self and their place in the world, through books. 

Stavisky described how connecting to characters in their books is powerful and deepens her readers’ understanding. VMS students quickly realized that they see themselves in books everywhere. The pile depicting African American characters and other cultures, however, was scarce. The students wanted to compile books with protagonists of different races, since the students of A. B. Williams are largely African American. Some of them began to understand just how much you can learn about different people by reading different books about characters from different backgrounds ⎯ a lesson in literature that is hard to teach in any conventional way. One that this project exposed them to organically. That is powerful, and it is something that Stavisky said was exciting to watch. 

But the students’ haste and eagerness to collect and compile books carried them headlong into one of their first challenges.  

“I stepped aside and purposefully allowed them to experience some chaos in their excitement and eagerness to get underway,” Stavisky explains. “They were busy, loud, and a bit overwhelmed stacking piles of books and sorting them by genres. As I expected from them, they figured out pretty quickly the need to form subgroups, focus on different parts of the project, and separate.”

Which is exactly what they did. They handled that problem, and those that followed. And one by one, as complications arose, so too, did the solutions.
“How are we going to ship all these!?”

“I can get boxes from my mom’s store!”

“We need tape, too!”

“What is this going to cost to send to Georgia?”

“What if we had a bake sale AND got more books from a book drive!”

They were fine ideas, and ones they were determined to pursue. So, several of the young philanthropists, decided they needed to appeal to some higher council ⎯ if they were going to make this bake sale legit, if they were going to make the kind of cash they needed to ship books to Savannah, Georgia, they were going to have to do it the right way. 

“Two of them completed paperwork, rehearsed, and pitched their ideas on behalf of their fifth-grade class to the Upper School committee that supports student philanthropy work.” Stavisky recounts. “I’ll never forget the joy on their faces and high fives as they came running back into the classroom screaming, ‘We did it!! The book drive and bake sale are approved!’”

The book drive took off at full speed with the same kind of enthusiasm. They started visiting homerooms, gave presentations, distributed flyers and even made appearances at the Middle School and Upper School Town Meetings to spread the message behind their class project and the bake sale. The bake sale was so successful, the students decided to sell more baked goods at VMS sporting events. So far, they have raised an impressive $780. 

“The energy has not stopped,” says Stavisky. 

This project has also given her a unique opportunity to facilitate some very deep conversations surrounding race and privilege. The students at A.B. Williams elementary are unduly disadvantaged ⎯ they don’t have the resources that are available at a place like VMS, and they have been through some tumultuous times as a school community. 

Several of Stavisky’s students expressed pity, at first, saying that they, “felt sorry for the students of A.B. Williams,” and their lack of books and other school supplies. 

But, Stavisky says, another student quickly chimed in, “We shouldn't feel sorry for them! They are happy and proud!”  

“Yeah!” agreed another of Stavisky’s students. “Feeling sorry is not the right feeling. They’re kids just like us but they just don’t have the same privileges we do....” 

“And just like their slogan says on the website, they don’t feel like victims, they feel like ‘The Best and the Brightest!’”

Stavisky says she couldn't have been happier with their reasoning. “They got it!!!” she remembers thinking. “That was a good day.” 

The conversations have drifted from access to education, barriers to it, and what it means to have privilege; to have a beautiful school, and a library overflowing with books. It’s safe to say this project has exposed these budding young VMS students to some very powerful and very important concepts.

And it has opened the doors for new friendships, too. The fifth graders are currently drafting letters to send to the students at A.B. Williams, their new Georgia pen pals. They are going to get to know the students who will be receiving all the books that the VMS students collected. 

“They are so excited to form new friendships with the fifth-graders in Savannah,” says Stavisky. 
“This relationship will continue. Something tells me this is just the beginning!”

Where this project goes from here hangs entirely on the will of the fifth graders. According to Stavisky, they have taken this project by the horns and they are not letting go.

It is a perfect example of an organic, project-based-learning opportunity. These fifth graders are in charge of their own discovery, have constructed their own knowledge, and are responsible for solving the problems they’ve identified. And it has very clearly empowered them.  

The fifth-grade flock is up and flying, it seems. And as a team, they’re covering a lot of ground very quickly, filling the bookshelves in the library and classrooms some 1,500 miles away, helping a group of fellow students.

This story was contributed to VMS News by freelance writer, Will Brendza, working in collaboration with the Vail Mountain School Advancement Office.