Principal Eustace of the Bronx: A Reading Evangelist
When it comes to Book Fairs, Principal Christopher Eustace thinks outside the box – or at least outside the walls of his Bronx elementary school. Through the three Fairs he has held every year since becoming principal in 2006, Christopher intends not only to foster a reading culture but also a culture of community service.
With all its nearly 1,600 children involved to some extent, Sen. Abraham Bernstein Elementary School – aka PS 105 – has put its own spin on Book Fairs to help students connect with their community. Calling their events Town Squares, Christopher and Book Fair Chairperson Faye Waters wage Penny Harvest and Pennies for Patients campaigns to benefit charitable causes. According to Faye, the Title 1 school’s efforts recently earned PS 105 the New York City Department of Education Service in Schools Award.
In the Penny Harvest campaigns – held during the November Fairs – donation jars are set up at the Fair, in the main office, in classrooms, and at the security desk. Then student leaders get to work, surveying all the classes to determine which nonprofit organization will receive the earnings.
Spring Fair season brings the Pennies for Patients campaign, sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Donations, which are collected throughout March, support educational and rehabilitation programs for juvenile cancer patients.
Students provide a lot of the muscle behind the events – a good thing, considering “our school has no permanent location for the Book Fair, so it is set up and broken down every single day just prior to our four lunch periods,” Christopher shares. “Every member of the school in some way supports the Fair and engages students in supporting and promoting literacy.”
As if two Fairs that have to be taken down and rebuilt daily are not enough, Christopher and Faye end the year with a third. “Our May Fair is held with an emphasis on summer reading so that the enthusiasm we have created and nurtured all school year continues throughout the summer,” Christopher says. To create a greater incentive for summer reading, the May event is a BOGO – or buy-one-get-one – Fair.
Reading – just like community service – is a core value at PS 105. In November, three to four students from kindergarten through fifth grade are inducted into the school’s Love to Read Club, which has become a PS 105 tradition. “These are students who might not have achieved grade-level proficiency, but they are motivated to read. We have a responsibility to encourage and support literacy among developing readers,” Christopher insists.
In another reading tradition, gift certificates are awarded for students to use at the Book Fair. “Each assistant principal randomly selects the names of five students per grade. The principal announces the winners over the PA system, and cheers are heard throughout the school,” Faye says. Just like the Love to Read Club members, gift certificate winners are celebrated by staff, volunteers, and parents alike.
To help get students excited about finding right-fit books, students are entered into a lottery, through which about 30 randomly selected students – five per grade – receive $5 gift certificates to spend at the fall Book Fair.
Excitement is also driven by student participation. Fifth-graders help staff the fall Fair, fourth-graders work the spring event, and third-graders help with the summer reading Fair. Faye puts all the students through orientation and gives each student guide sheets she has prepared. Students greet shoppers, work on the sales floor, provide security, pack boxes, and help with checkout.
But literacy is even woven into the volunteer experience. “Each service volunteer must submit a brief Response Journal summarizing his or her Scholastic Book Fair volunteer experience,” Christopher says.
Parent volunteers also play a critical role in every Fair, and Christopher credits teamwork for making his Book Fairs vision a reality. “I am especially proud of our Book Fair team, which includes staff volunteers, parent volunteers, the custodial staff, school security, and the administrative team,” he says.
Faye, who retired eight years ago, marvels at Christopher’s dedication to Book Fairs.
The results – students who are discovering the wonders of reading, parents who are becoming engaged in their students’ education – keep her motivated.
“We have to take the Book Fair out every morning at 8:15 and repackage it about 9:45 to clear out for lunch periods. That’s how much support this principal gives to Book Fairs,” she says.