For the first time in five years, southeast Austin’s Langford Elementary School has a free book program.
Langford, where 65 percent of the students are learning English as a second language, is able to relaunch its Reading is Fundamental program with help from a neighborhood church.
Richard Villarreal is the lead pastor at Springs Community Church. He approached Langford principal Dounna Poth last spring and asked how his church could help the school.
Poth told Villarreal that rebooting the reading program could enhance students’ educations. When Villarreal realized the correlation between education and at-risk youth, he said it was imperative to get books into childrens' hands.
“We said, ‘You know what? This is unacceptable. We have to do something about it,’” Villarreal says. “And we were able to rally the support and set our mind on bringing this program here to Langford, a much needed program.”
Today, children ranging from prekindergarten to fifth grade were able to pick out a book of their choosing to keep. Student excitement was infectious as they circled two long library tables stacked with children’s books.
The school had previously deemed the reading program too expensive to continue, according to librarian Rosa Dominguez.
“We just muddled along without it,” Dominguez says. “In order to have a program of some kind, I did have a book fair. However, that’s very different from [Reading is Fundamental], because there they have to buy a book.”
The students will receive a second book in the spring, and will also be able to engage in a book swap. Villarreal hopes to keep the program funded for years to come.
“It’s a joy to see that this reading program is going to stimulate them to further discoveries,” Villarreal says.