At the end of a school year marked by a worldwide pandemic, virtual learning and other challenges, second graders in public school districts served by BJC HealthCare got a special gift: Each second grader received a brand new book to read during summer vacation.
The BJC Book Brigade has provided more than 145,800 books over the past six years to school children in nearly 400 elementary schools throughout the communities BJC serves, including St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Columbia, Sullivan and Farmington in Missouri; and Alton, Belleville and Shiloh in Illinois. This year, BJC provided more than 23,000 books to area students.
The program is a BJC community outreach effort to encourage summer reading in recognition of the correlation between education and higher income, better health and longer life expectancy.
“Our BJC Book Brigade is an opportunity for us to champion learning and support our communities,” says June McAllister Fowler, BJC senior vice president of communications, marketing and public affairs, who is the executive sponsor of the BJC Book Brigade program. “We are passionate about encouraging childhood literacy because it is the foundation of lifelong learning.”
“Why second grade?” says Jason Purnell, PhD, MPH, vice president of BJC community health improvement. “Studies have shown that if children are reading at grade level by third grade, they will be much more likely to graduate from high school and live a healthier life.”
Each year, BJC employees have an opportunity to donate books online through Scholastic Books, and BJC supplies the remainder of the books to the schools. Book titles are selected by curriculum specialists based on age-appropriate content and storyline messages.
In 2021, books were collected beginning in February and delivered to schools in April. A partnership with Valley Industries sheltered workshop in Hazelwood, Missouri, allowed for distribution before the end of the school year in order to encourage summer reading.
Bringing reading home to families
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, BJC leaders had visited area schools each year before summer break to read Book Brigade selections to the second graders. Early school closings last year changed those plans but didn’t stop the Book Brigade spirit.
Instead of reading to students at their schools, BJC leaders and community members brought the books home to the children through virtual story times. The videos were posted to the “BJC Book Brigade Story Time Video Series” on BJC’s YouTube channel. See those videos, and new ones for 2021, here.
This year, the BJC Book Brigade is also being recognized as part of a greater literacy campaign in the St. Louis region. In collaboration with other local non-profits, including Turn the Page STL, BJC is participating in a summer reading initiative that launched in late May. The campaign promotes 20 minutes of reading each day with a slogan of “It’s Your Turn! Become a Leader. Be a Reader.”
Turn the Page STL is a city-county-wide literacy initiative dedicated to increasing the number of children in the St. Louis community who are reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade. Learn more here.
You can also learn more about these initiatives, and see the new BJC Book Brigade videos, by visiting the BJC School Outreach and Youth Development Facebook page.
“Each year, we receive thank you messages from students, teachers and administrators, expressing appreciation for this very tangible way that we as BJC team members demonstrate our commitment to the community,” says McAllister Fowler. “In the journey toward higher education and better health, the BJC Book Brigade is one small step that is well worth the long-term effort toward improved reading, high school graduation rates and, ultimately, better health for the future.”
The BJC Book Brigade will return in 2022. Details to purchase online book donations will be posted on BJC.org.