A Mercer County school district has served up more than 3,600 books and a couple hundred pizzas to some of its K-5 students and their families.

The West Windsor-Plainsboro Education Association (WW-PEA) started collaborating with the district administration in May to provide books for some of their students who had been recommended by their teachers. This would ensure lots of students had the opportunity to read over the summer.

Photo via Debbie Baer.

In total, 360 students were selected to receive books and pizza. Among them, were English-language learners (ELL), students who qualify for reduced/free meals, and students with small home libraries.

The teachers from WW-P’s elementary schools recommended books to order based on their students’ reading levels and interests.

Educators chose chapter books, novels and non-fiction, for older kids in grades 4 and 5. Each student in this age group got about five books as their reading was more substantial.

Meantime, the K-3 students received age appropriate fiction, non-fiction and activity books. As these books are typically shorter, each of these students got between six and ten books.

And each family that came to pick up books from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North as part of this event, received a frozen pizza. The idea for a virtual pizza party came from James Earle, the Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services/Planning. This way the students would have the spirit of eating with their friends, even if they were separated. Ms Marcey Behler, WW-P Food Services Manager, facilitated the purchase of the pizzas.

This event started as a much smaller idea and then it blossomed into this wonderful event.

Initially, the WW-PEA through Pride Chair, Debbie Baer, applied for a $6,000 Pride in Public Education grant from the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). This grant was approved and funded so that about 240 students would receive 5 books each, for some fun summer reading.

Then, Ms Baer spoke to Mr. Earle about growing the number of books the students could get for summer reading, and it was determined that this innovative program could receive matching money from the school district to add to the number of books students were receiving.

Photo via Debbie Baer.

To round out the total, Ms Baer reached out to Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Pam Nathan in hopes of adding some money to the budget so that ELL students could be added to the summer reading group and Nathan said that would be possible. This opened up more matching funds to get new books for 120 of WW-P’s ELL students.

“We’ve worked collaboratively over the years to build relationships with our administration and it really paid off for our students,” said Baer. “We turned our $6,000 NJEA Pride Grant into $18,000 to purchase appropriately-leveled books for 360 students so that they would have something new and interesting to read over the summer.”

Due to school closures, Scholastic and other book suppliers have discounted their books. This gave the district greater buying power to get more books to include some of the students’ siblings.

“Our grant blossomed into something three times as good because we partnered with our administration to do what’s best for our students. It’s so heartwarming to me,” said Baer.