EAST LIVERPOOL - An impromptu change from the normal lesson plan in Pam Gerace's Jobs Training Program has snowballed over several months into a project benefiting not only her students but those in the community.
Deciding on an October day to show a movie to her students, Gerace chose Pay it Forward, in which a teacher instills in students the desire to think of others rather than themselves.
Gerace said that, after seeing all the things the students in the movie did to make a difference, "My kids said, 'Mrs. Gerace, we need to do something.'"
Students in the East Liverpool High School Job Training Program peruse the books at Westgate Middle School to find appropriate reading materials for an upcoming Read it Forward book giveaway they are sponsoring. (Photo by Jo Ann Bobby-Gilbert)
So, her students were divided into groups of three and four and instructed to devise possible projects that they then presented to the class.
The projects ended up being as diverse as her students themselves: Anti-bullying, cleaning up litter, food and clothing drives.
The students quickly realized they all knew of groups or organizations already providing those types of programs, and Gerace told them they could either partner with one of those groups or come up with a project no one else has done.
Finally, the students decided on a reading program for the community.
"They know we live in an area where there are a lot of low-income kids whose families struggle and they may not even have a book to read at home," she explained.
The students decided they wanted to put as many books as possible into the hands of as many young people as possible, and the "Read it Forward" project began in earnest, with the idea being to provide every child with a free book to read then pass along to someone else.
"There was a lot of brainstorming, a lot of discussion," Gerace recollected this week as she explained the evolution of the project. "The kids had to come up with how to get people involved."
And, while this may sound like a simple process for most young people in today's world, for the Jobs Training Program students it was a major accomplishment, since not everything comes as easy to them due to a variety of special learning needs and some difficulty interacting with others.
"It is an even bigger deal for them to come up with these ideas," Gerace said with pride evident in every word.
Ultimately, the students decided to host a community book fair from 1-3 p.m. March 22 at the East Liverpool High School Alumni Clock Tower at which every child who visited would be given a book for free.
Once the decision was made, the students had to devise ways to make the book fair happen and to get the word out, which necessitated them involving others in the school system.
"They knew we needed money for books, so through the candy business we run, we allocated $1,000," Gerace said.
Superintendent James Herring advised there were numerous books at the middle school that could be donated for the project, and Principal Carole Sutton opened the doors of Westgate to the Jobs Training students to purge her library of non-current titles those books which had not been checked out in 10 years.
Partnering with the Westgate student council, Gerace's students collected 450 books for their upcoming giveaway.
When the middle school held its own book fair for students, the Read it Forward team decided to spend $200 purchasing books, and Sutton made special accommodations so they could make their choices before anyone else, Gerace said.
She said the students came away with a large selection of books suitable for young readers, utilizing their math skills to "make their $200 go as far as possible."
Meanwhile, working with the commercial arts class, the students began preparing to market their project, first coming up with a mission statement: "The East Liverpool High School Job Training Program promotes Read it Forward to help kids experience the love of reading by putting smiles on every child's face."
Then, the students came up with the slogan, "Get It, Read It, Share It," which was incorporated onto a book mark they collaboratively designed, with one student drawing a smiling stick figure child reading in a chair and another student insisting that bright red hearts be included.
Each book given away on March 22 will have one of the markers inserted and will also have a label attached to the front on which the recipient will be asked to write his or her name, with additional space for the names of others with whom the book is shared.
"We want them to pass these books on," Gerace pointed out.
The students also covered cardboard collection boxes with colorful paper and designed labels for them, with Gerace saying, "They were very specific what they wanted on those boxes."
Fliers were also designed, and Gerace said her students closely monitored commercial arts students as the fliers were being made to make sure they came out exactly as her students had pictured them.
The Students Helping Our Community (SHOC) Club also stepped up and spent the last week in the Job Training classroom, helping Gerace's students determine the age range for each book.
"Again, this was typical peers working with my kids," she pointed out.
While all this was happening, Gerace contacted Scholastic Book Club about another matter and talked a bit about her class' project, prompting a representative there to say they needed to hold their own book fair to raise money, so in less than two weeks, the Job Training students also planned and hosted a book fair in their own classroom with the help of the seventh and eighth graders from the building.
More than $2,000 was raised, which allowed the students to purchase even more books for their giveaway.
Although the plan is to give each child who visits the book giveaway one book, Gerace said, "If we don't have a large volume of kids attend, those who do will walk away with a stack of books."
In hopes of attracting that large number of kids, every student will take home one of the fliers next week. Gerace emphasized that books will be given only to children, not adults.
While using math and deduction skills has been a valuable lesson to the students throughout planning of this project, Gerace said possibly more important has been learning to think of those outside themselves while also interacting with people with whom they might otherwise not have any contact.
"This is a hub of activity in this classroom. I'm not sure their typical peers always realize how hard these kids work," Gerace said. "The really neat thing about this is, most of my students don't typically venture outside the world they know."