To commemorate National Read Across America Day, United Way of San Diego County and Warwick's in La Jolla began a month-long virtual book drive Monday.
During the drive, which runs through March 12, local companies and individuals are encouraged to donate new children's books to help spark the love of reading in students throughout San Diego County.
At the end of the virtual drive, UWSD and Warwick's hope to collect 1,500 books to increase children's access to books at home and foster a generation of diverse readers. All books will be donated to San Diego children in need to help enhance their home libraries.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected families experiencing economic hardship, in turn threatening the educational success of children," said Nancy L. Sasaki, president and CEO of United Way of San Diego County. "Whether it's online or hybrid learning, many families have been forced to adapt to new systems and routines.
"Before the pandemic, many San Diego families were already struggling to meet reading requirements due to lack of time and access to resources. We know the difficulties our community is facing when it comes to reading at home. Our virtual book drive will help alleviate the battle parents and students are experiencing by making books available in the home," Sasaki said.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 45% of San Diego County's third-graders were not reading at grade level, and that was before school closures and virtual learning exacerbated inequitable access to high-quality learning opportunities.
On average, students could lose five to nine months of learning by the end of June 2021. Students of color could be six to 12 months behind.
"Books have the power to connect us, enlighten us and sweep us away with wonder," said Stacey Haerr, children's book buyer at Warwick's. "In our diverse San Diego community, all children need to see themselves and the richness of their cultures reflected in the stories we share, and give them a glimpse of another person's circumstances to ultimately build bridges that make our community stronger."
UWSD sponsors the "Readers in the Heights" program, where the organization and its community partners -- such as City Heights Community Development Corporation -- collaborate to close learning gaps and provide summer reading opportunities for students and their families.
When schools and after-school learning programs moved online, the Readers in the Heights team realized a need to shift its model to keep students excited about reading. Parents of participants reported that, parents in the program read more frequently with their children and for longer periods of time than they do typically.
For a list of age-appropriate books and how to donate, click here.