JetBlue's book vending machine program expands

(ABC NEWS) -- After a successful summer in Detroit, JetBlue’s Soar with Reading program -- which provides free books in vending machines to children in needy neighborhoods -- will be headed to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, next summer.

Fort Lauderdale was named the program's next destination after winning the #BookBattle online voting competition, which ended last month.

The book vending machine program aims to distribute free books to children living in areas known as “book deserts.” The vending machines also help combat the “summer slide,” a term Susan B. Neuman, professor of literacy development and early childhood at New York University, describes as occurring when children do not have reading resources readily available during their summer break.

Five book vending machines were placed at locations throughout Detroit this summer, including at Matrix Human Services, where 9-year-old Paige Godbott and her friends visited to get books for their book club.

“It’s cool to come to a vending machine with books, instead of snacks,” Paige said.

Paige and her friends were so inspired by their growing personal library that they met almost daily at Paige’s home to discuss their reading. As they worked through “Miami Jackson Makes the Play,” by Patricia McKissack, they talked to ABC News about how the program was helping them.

“It gives you vocabulary and stuff. You can say about it, talk about it in a group. That’s exactly why we’ve formed a book club,” 10-year-old Ciera Stone told ABC News. “I know a lot, but sometimes I’m not very good at reading…but ever since I started getting these books from the machine at the Matrix Center it started helping me get my words back up.”

Icema Gibbs, JetBlue’s director of social responsibility, said the vending machine program has had many benefits.

“We do have the book club and the girls who are reading the books together, but they are also helping each other. They are not judging each other, but helping lift everybody up so they can do well when the school year starts,” Gibbs said.

Last summer, Soar with Reading distributed more than 27,000 books via vending machines and an additional 70,000 books through community partners in the Anacostia area of Washington, D.C.

JetBlue found that certain areas in Detroit had only one book for every 42 children, while Anacostia had just one book for every 830 children. Children living in "book deserts" are at risk of falling behind with language, vocabulary and comprehension, leaving them in jeopardy of academically lagging behind their peers who have access to books, according to the report co-authored by Neuman and Naomi Moland, a postdoctoral research fellow at New York University.

“It may seem like a simple thing, having a machine with little books in it for kids, but it really is an opportunity for us all to be part of the child’s learning experience,” Dr. Nolanda Nobles Bandy, assistant director of children’s services for the Head Start program at the Matrix Center, told ABC News.

The concept’s appeal also caught the attention of celebrities. At an event at Matrix Human Services last month, Detroit Pistons’ Andre Drummond made a surprise appearance in front of an audience of eager young readers. He spoke to them about the importance of reading.

“Everybody knows the sport I play in is something that can be taken away from you at any time,” Drummond said, “but having an education, having knowledge, is something nobody can take away from you.”

Preliminary findings from data collected by JetBlue and its Soar with Reading partners showed that many families believe their children’s vocabulary has increased throughout the summer and having access to books that are related to a child’s culture provided an important purpose for reading from their perspective.

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