Closing the “Book Gap”: A Simple Step to Empower Low-income Families

The achievement gap is not an invisible problem. It is one that we can see and one that can be eliminated if we take action. Every summer underprivileged students who don’t have the means for learning resources or experiences will get set behind their more affluent peers. They also are more likely to return to a home environment every day that is not conducive to learning. Low-income families may have illiterate parents, no or limited access to technology, and a lack of literature — all influences that keep the poverty cycle going and the achievement gap strong.

Second and third-grade teacher Justin Minkel teaches to a class of 25 students, 24 of which are at the poverty level and 20 are English language learners. He recently wrote an article for Education Week where he uses his student, Melinda, as an example of how books can change a student’s life. Melinda had one book at home, was abused as a very young child, lives in poverty, and has a mother who is illiterate in English and Spanish. Today, thanks to Minkel, she has a library of 40 books. Over the last two years, she’s also gone from a kindergarten reading level to a 4th grade reading level.

Minkel attacked illiteracy in his classroom with “The 1,000 Books Project.” Each of the 25 students in his 2nd and 3rd grade classes received 3 books a month, which by the end of their two years created a library of 40 books in each student’s home, or 1,000 books in total. Scholastic took care of half the books and Minkel, alongside individuals and organizations, purchased the other half.

He calls his project “simple.” Children had home libraries “ranging from a cardboard box decorated with stickers to a wooden bookcase.” Supplies also only cost $50 per child per year. The results, however, were extraordinary. Students’ language skills improved, their reading scores soared above state expectations, and members of their families became more literate by association.

At LifeBound, we believe providing students with learning resources is key to closing the achievement gap and are working with our partners this summer to bring books to those in need. At La Casa/Quigg Newton Family Center, families are getting our book Study Skills for High School Students to be read by middle school and high school students alongside their parents. Including parents in the learning experience opens up many more opportunities for each family’s future. LifeBound is also launching a summer reading program with the Omaha Public Library this summer to get books in the hands of  1,000 students who otherwise will approach a summer without learning resources that keep their brains engaged and ready to start the next school year strong.


“The Home Library Effect: Transforming At-Risk Readers,” by Justin Minkel. 12 June 2012. Education Week. Accessed on 14 June 2012.

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