GREAT FALLS — Hundreds of new books sit quietly on the shelves of the Sunnyside Elementary School library, waiting for new homes. The bell rings, classes start to file in, and students get a chance to lay their eyes and their hands on the pages.
“I’m really excited, because last time we had to pay for ‘em,” said six grader Degen Peters. “Yeah, I'm glad we just get to do it for free now.”
At Tuesday’s book fair, there was something for everyone in Mrs. Gammill’s sixth-grade class, the first group to select books at the event.
“I like kind of more realistic fiction, like kind of more horror stories,” said Brently Bokma.
“I really like the graphic novels and the human rights books,” said Payton LaMere.
“I picked out a a mystery. And I picked out a book for my little brother, because he likes to read, too,” added Karleigh Andrist.
Sunnyside is a Title 1 school, which means a large portion of the student body qualifies for free or reduced price lunches, an indicator of low-income households. For many students at Sunnyside, access to books at home is limited.
The COVID pandemic and frequent transitions to remote learning have exacerbated the challenges these kids face.
“It sets them back in ways that I think the public doesn't see. So we are up against a a struggle with competing against social media which kids use during free time and their downtime,” said Jill Gammill. “So getting them to read a book is huge. And it's a struggle for some kids who just go immediately to their phones a lot. So in any way that we can motivate them to read we we're going to do it automatically.”
Walking away with books left students and excited to thumb through the pages, and grateful for the generosity of their community. Thanks to donations from the Scripps Howard Foundation, MTN employees, our premier sponsor Mountain Title, and community donations, each student at Sunnyside was able to take home five books of their very own.
“I would say we are very grateful for all of that. Kids are happy as you could probably hear they're all talking around finding books,” Bokma said. “I’m very happy because we can just find new books and we’re going to find new interests.”
“I am really grateful that they did this because a lot of the kids at our school probably don't really get many books,” said LaMere. “And it's really nice that they finally get a chance to pick out whatever book they want without any cost.”
It’s safe to say Sunnyside is in a very generous community.
“I'm so like grateful to the community for donating and such great hearts. These kids struggle right now with the pandemic and with going remote and trying to get them motivated to read this is like perfect timing,” Gammill said. “So they're really excited about the free books and we're really excited to give them to them.”
If you’d like to help put books in the hands of students in Great Falls, click here.