Nashville has seen better days. I realize I just published a blog crying about our woes, but put yourself in my position. I was all set to dive into the school district’s budget to search for a reasonable explanation for the enrollment decline causing a net loss of $7.5 million in state funding resulting in a mandatory freeze of all spending (even copy paper) for the remainder of the year. Then, out of freaking nowhere (well, not nowhere), the mayor of Nashville rolls out in a blaze — the dumpster fire kind. Please, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not making light of the ex-mayor’s downfall. I wouldn’t wish hell on my worst enemy.
Thankfully, time heals and one week later the new mayor is working to hasten the city’s restoration by correcting some wrongs and giving sorely needed attention to issues that affect the city’s most marginalized. Unfortunately, time has not made clear the district’s shaping and shifting of state and federal allocations to schools. Still cloudy.
But this blog is not about that. At the end of last week, after experiencing the tectonic movement in the city’s political landscape, I couldn’t wait to engage in at least one thing I could count on: Escaping into a community of people who care about reading as much as I do.
I had the privilege of spending the morning at Maplewood High School with Project LIT Community. It was book club day, and we discussed John Lewis’ March Book One and Book Two. As you know, Nashville is an important part of the civil rights movement and John Lewis talks extensively about its significance in Books One and Two. Unfortunately, I failed to get Book Two in time for the book club, but the students in my group didn’t judge; they let me hang out anyway.
Why I Go Hard In the Paint for Project LIT
Back in the Dark Ages, I spent my freshman year at Maplewood High School. For 180 days, I sat in an English classroom with a teacher who had clearly retired but forgot to tell anyone. If there was anything learned in that class, it was how to pass time in a classroom without harming yourself or someone else. Not until last fall did I realize how criminal it was to allow 150 students learn nothing for an entire year. And get this: my first Project LIT book club was my first time ever visiting the Maplewood library.
Back then, I did not have access to books. I could not afford them, no transportation, no library within walking distance, and my teacher had zero reading requirements. However, the following year I had the good fortune to be assigned to an English teacher who cared enough to teach. Still, I found little interest in the required reading. This is why I am so passionate about the opportunity to get culturally-relevant books into the hands of students. This is what the brains-behind-the-book movement does for his students.
Project LIT began after Maplewood High English teacher Jarred Amato read an article about book deserts. Realizing the article described areas similar to his students’ neighborhoods, he decided to do something about it. After sharing the idea with friends, old newspaper bins were delivered to the school where Amato and his students painted them and placed the book-filled bins throughout certain neighborhoods. From there, he watched the unimpeded growth of the community of LIT schools and LIT book clubbers.
Anyone who attends a book club meeting can see the value Project LIT Community plays in students’ lives. Though these books are not district-approved, this effort is transitioning students who read out of obligation to students who love certain authors and a certain type of story. Further, Project LIT Community is making a difference, not just in Nashville, but throughout the country! Project LIT Community has more than 100 chapters from coast-to-coast and it’s growing.
From New York to California, Project LIT students have access to great culturally-relevant books thanks to the teachers who recognized the need. Mr. Amato and other LIT teachers model by reading books students might have an interest in. Because they are committed to access, LIT teachers work to have several copies of these books available to any student who wants to take one home. Additionally, the book clubs provide an amazing opportunity for students to think critically and discuss these books with other adults who care. It’s just a winning strategy.
LIT Summit June 16, 2018
Because educators from all over are hungry to learn from the leader of this effort, Mr. Amato recognized the need to take the Community offline and in-person. Once again, his vision has been well-received. Young Adult authors Nic Stone and Kwame Alexander are slated to attend as well as Project LIT members from around the country.
From placing donated book bins in book deserts to community book clubs to the first annual summit, Project LIT Community is only going to get bigger and better.
Be part of the movement
If you want to donate to the first-ever Project LIT Community Summit:
Please mail check payable to: Maplewood High School
For more information, please email Jarred Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are an educator and want to join Project LIT Community, click here for the application.
Donate new Young Adult books!
Mail books and checks to:
Maplewood High School
c/o Jarred Amato, Project LIT Community
401 Walton Lane
Nashville, TN 37207
Project LIT in the media: