Ask 10-year-old Lamarianna McDaniel what books she's read and she'll pull a dozen or more from the shelves of her fifth-grade classroom. She loves to read so much she can't stop talking about it. Fantasy, biography, fiction and even nonfiction books. Lamarianna wants to read them all.
If Lamarianna has a choice, she'll do her best to read through every book in Cindy Robinson's classroom at Hillcrest Elementary School. But she'd better get started -- every classroom at Hillcrest now has hundreds of books thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Leonore Annenberg School Fund for Children.
"Reading helps us learn and be smarter, but I like to read because I feel like I'm in another world," she said. "In this classroom, we have a lot of books ... but I know some [kids] don't like to read. They would if they could read these books."
That's exactly what Hillcrest Principal Angelia Askins and her teachers want for all of their students: a passion for reading. While students like Lamarianna read at home every day, Askins said many students don't, making it harder for students to want to read in the classroom.
"There are so many kids who just do not have access to books, and we just want them to want to read," Askins said. "We want them to be able to come into this classroom and snuggle up with a book and just read."
The so-called Book Nooks are the latest act of generosity from the Annenberg School Fund for Children, which invested $650,000 in Hamilton County Schools in the past four years. The gift bought 13,000 books and lamps, bookshelves, rugs and comfy pillows for 16 classrooms in the school. Now each classroom has shelves lined with bins of books, organized by subject, all for the taking.
"It's just really a good thing for this school, for so many kids to now have easy access to this wealth of books," said Dan Challener, president of the Public Education Foundation. "And this was all driven by the teachers of this school. They wanted this for their students."
And the school needs books and a heightened culture of reading to enhance achievement at the school, Askins added.
Less than a third of Hillcrest students were reading at grade level in 2012, according to the Tennessee Report Card. That's far behind the rest of Hamilton County.
"There's no question that this is the academic focus of our school system," said Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith. "But I'm pleased to see how schools are dealing with this challenge of literacy. That passion ... that's what it's going to take."
Contact staff writer Meghan Pittman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 757-6506.