Manitoba

Not-for-profit helps young students get 'into their book zone' with free reads

A Winnipeg not-for-profit is helping nursery and kindergarten students at a North End school build their own personal libraries, one free book at a time.

Share the Magic gives out free books to nursery, kindergarten students at Niji Mahkwa School

The concept behind Share the Magic is to send students home with enough books that they develop a love for the written word. (Shutterstock)

A Winnipeg not-for-profit is helping nursery and kindergarten students at a North End school build their own personal libraries, one free book at a time.

Once a month since February, Chris Melnick from Share the Magic has gone to Niji Mahkwa School on Flora Avenue with a load of books. One of them is given as a gift to the classroom to be shared as a group, but the rest are picked through by students to take home as their own.

"If you were to come to the class and see their beautiful little faces, and see their excitement when they choose their books — and they really choose their books," said Melnick, the executive director of the program.

Share the Magic has been giving out free books in Manitoba for years — more than 400,000 in total. This spring, the group expanded into the younger years at Niji Mahkwa school as part of a pilot project Melnick hopes to expand to two more schools in the fall.

The goal is to make sure kids have a selection of books at home to boost reading skills and interest, she said. At the end of the school year, kids will be sent home with an additional 17 books of their choice to keep them going over the summer.

"I think of their little arms and their knapsacks — we might have to do it over a few days for them," she said.

Chris Melnick is executive director of Share the Magic. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

On Monday, a report from the Council of Ministers of Education​ said Manitoba students' scores are last in reading, science and math on a national standardized test done in 2016. For reading specifically, Manitoba Grade 8 students scored 18 points higher than they did on the same test in 2013, but were still 20 points behind the national mean of 507.

Melnick hopes her program will help kids fare better in school as they get older.

"If we can help children start enjoying books when they're very little, this may help them in school," she said.

The Winnipeg School Division will keep track of kids' progress to see if the program helps them become more ready to read, Melnick added.

Test scores, poverty rate

On Tuesday, Winnipeg School Division trustee Mark Wasyliw said Manitoba's low scores are an indication of the province's high child poverty rate.

"Some students come to school hungry. Some students don't have books or art supplies at home," Wasyliw said.

"Learning just doesn't happen at a school. It's your background, it's what you do after school, it's your family stability. Children from impoverished backgrounds don't have those resources … and they don't have those structures and supports that wealthy families do."

Melnick hopes the program will help improve literacy rates among the kids who benefit from it.

"If we can start way back when they're children to help them read, to make good reading material available to them in their homes and their schools, we might be able to help create a better life for them which we will all benefit from," she said.

When she turns up at schools, Melnick says kids have to choose their books after her planned activities. Otherwise, the excitement to crack the cover can prove too much.

"What we've found is no matter what other activity we have going on, we have to give the children their books last," she said. "Because once they get their books they are into their book zone."

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