While the UNI Connection project is still going on strong, the other half of the sophomore presidential scholar class is tackling a separate issue: literacy in Waterloo elementary schools. Group member Theresa Luensmann talked to HSAB about the project and the impact she hopes it will have on Edison Elementary.
For the Think Tank project, what issue did your group decide to address?
We are addressing the issue of literacy in elementary school students in an underprivileged school. We addressed this issue by creating a book registry based off titles we were given by teachers in Edison Elementary in Waterloo. It’s like a gift registry but with books; it’s been in the bookstore for the past month. We also did a penny war with the residence halls so that we could get people on campus involved.
How did you pick Edison?
We talked to some teachers in the Waterloo Schools, and we talked to an Elementary Education professor here at UNI about what schools in Waterloo would need the most help. We were originally going to go to Lincoln Elementary, but they didn’t respond to us when we called, so we decided to go with Edison. One of our reasons for picking Edison Elementary is that 85% of their students are on free and reduced lunch, so this is definitely a school where the kids could use some help. When we did our research, we learned that the more places kids can get books, the better readers they become. Kids at Edison don’t have the outside resources that a lot of other kids are given, so we’re really glad to give them that. We’ve loved working with Edison. We’ve had such a good response from all the teachers there, and they’re so grateful for what we’re doing. One of the faculty members at Edison told us, “When we got your email, we thought it was a joke. We feel like we’ve won the lottery.” We met one teacher who was a UNI grad that had just started in December, and it was really cool to have that connection with a recent grad. This project has been important for her because she only had about 50 books in her classroom library, so this addition was a huge help. It’s been nice to help her out and talk to them.
What has been your favorite part about working on this project?
My favorite part was meeting the teachers and being able to talk to them about their experiences and their students. They obviously love what they do, and they are so enthusiastic about it. I’ve also loved just seeing the way people respond to our project, just to see people on campus and in the community get involved. Now that it’s almost done, it’s cool to look back and see what we did. We’re easily going to complete the registry and we will most likely be able to buy some extra stuff.
What was the most challenging part of the project?
Surprisingly, finding a school to partner with was really difficult. We spent a lot of time talking to Lincoln Elementary, and they spent a lot of time not responding. We also had a kickoff event at the bookstore, and that took a lot of prep work. We wanted to give a presentation, and we had to have the registry all put together. There was a lot of work, and the bookstore helped us a ton..
You mentioned that University Book & Supply helped out a lot. What did they do?
They’re the central hub for our project; they hold our registry for us, so that we can keep track of the books. They’ve also initiated an add-a-dollar program for all their customers, which has raised a lot of money. They ordered all the books for us, and they were able to get us discounts. They also paid for all the food at our kickoff. They were fantastic. I can’t say enough about the bookstore. We would have been lost without them.
When are you planning to give the books to Edison?
Currently we’re planning to go as a group to drop the books off, and give them to the kids ourselves. We hope that the teachers can take pictures and videos of the kids, and hopefully we can send thank you notes with pictures so that people who donated can see who really benefitted from their donations. We’re going to put out statistics from the registry with how the money was used and who it benefitted. Another really cool thing is that all of the books will have labels with the names of the people who donated, which I think is cool because we can recognize those who donated.
What were some of your favorite experiences with this project?
It was just amazing to see how generous people were. Ben & Pat Allen just bought seven books, and on the labels, he just wanted them to say “UNI” and not their names. I thought that was amazing; I actually teared up a little. Some of the students were unbelievably generous too. One student heard us talking about the project, and he pulled out a fifty dollar bill for us to use to buy books. These people really care about what we’re doing. Someone from the community just wrote us a two hundred and fifty dollar check. The students on campus have helped out a ton as well; we raised over five hundred and fifty dollars from the penny wars, and that’s not even counting money from Hagemann and Dancer.
Did you enjoy working with your group?
Our group has really clicked from the beginning. We’ve been good about understanding when are going through busy times and trying to cooperate when schedules don’t always work out. We’ve become really close throughout the project as well. We didn’t always have an opportunity to get to know each other like this last year, but now we’re kind of like a family. I know that they’ll always help me if I need anything, and that’s really awesome.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
The registry is still going on until April 8th, so everyone should go to the bookstore and purchase a book. There are some books for as cheap as $3.99, so it won’t break your bank. And it will help the fourth graders at Edison Elementary, and they would really appreciate it. And so would we; we would love you forever!