NJ Teachers’ Lounge is excited to continue its Teachers of New Jersey series in 2017. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the series, it now comes out twice a month. This editorial series is curated by photojournalist, Gregory Andrus, creator of the social media series, Portraits of the Jersey Shore. These stories highlight the joys, struggles, and personal reflections that surround being a teacher.

“I am an English teacher in high school. I work in a very high-needs district, where there is a lot of poverty, in Lindenwold, NJ. A few years ago I had a student who was a senior who had a baby, and I asked her, ‘What are you reading to your kid these days?’ And she replied, ‘Mr. Abrams, my baby is too young to understand. I don’t read to my child.’ I said, ‘When my daughter was two, I read to her books like Goodnight Moon, and God’s Paintbrush, and she could understand that at two.’ And my student replied, ‘Mr. Abrams, we don’t do that in my culture.’ And it was then that it hit me, I need to do something about that. So I looked around, and found a few books and gave them to her.”

“But I had been thinking about it for a few years following that encounter, and last fall I decided to do something about the need for our community to get books to their children. I decided to go full-throttle, and used Facebook and social media and emails and talked with all of my friends, and told them I am collecting gently used children’s books. I pick them up and distribute them to our students in Lindenwold. I have had some families donate up to 350 books.”

“We have a lot of ESL students, and students living in poverty, and getting books to read to their kids is not a big priority to them. But I am trying to make it a priority for them. I believe raising kids that have books being read to them while they are growing up is very important to their development. I have had great responses from the kids that get the books. They just light up when they get the books.”

“We have two elementary schools and one middle school, so whenever there is an evening activity that involves parents and kids, I am there with a pop-up book fair, basically giving books out. I give to the high school kids as well, because that is a great way to get the books to the little kids who need them, because with high school kids everyone knows someone who has younger siblings there. So I am often in the lobby of the school with the books. This is something I do year-round, and it is becoming really big.”

“I know who all of the student-moms are in my school, and I know who all of the mothers-to-be are in my school. So I make sure they are receiving books to put in their children’s rooms, to hopefully read to their kids.”

“This has turned into my passion. I have created a website and a Facebook page, and over this past summer this project just became a Title I C-3 and I am now an actual company, called ‘Book Smiles.’ My own kids are now in college, and I have ten more years left to teach, and then I want to do this full-time. I can see myself doing this for a long, long time. Every kid needs a chance. Growing up in an impoverished household should not be an excuse for not having books in the home, and I am going to help change that.”

(TONJ Note: This is the first installment of a series of upcoming interviews from the teachers convention this past November.)

Link to website: http://www.booksmiles.org

What English teacher inspired you? Or is doing good for their community? Let us know in the comments!

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