Carly: Fostering Equity Through Literacy | Girl Scouts

Carly: This Gold Award Girl Scout Fosters Equity Through Literacy

Carly Smiling

I’ve volunteered over the years at the school where my mom works, and while I was helping clean out cupboards and closets, I kept finding books that weren’t being used. Tons and tons of books.

The school is in a low-income community, one where kids might have an increased need for free access to books. But when I looked into it, I discovered that there is no library within walking distance from the school, the Library on Wheels doesn’t serve the area—and while the school itself does have a library, kids aren’t actually allowed to take the books home.

Not only was it wrong, it wasn’t equitable. Books and reading do so much, especially when kids are young. Reading is a path to success both in school and in life. Without the skills reading develops, when you’re trying to find a career or get through school everything’s going to be harder. Books help you grow and learn about yourself.

I’ve been a Girl Scout since I was a Brownie, and one of my favorite things about being a Girl Scout is that it teaches you how to help and shape your community. Growing up, I had access to all the books I wanted—I could take home five or six books at a time from the library. All kids should have the same opportunities; that’s what inspired me to dedicate my Girl Scout Gold Award project to creating a bilingual book room at the school.

I worked with teachers and the school administration to provide books access to students in the community. The idea is that kids can take out up to ten books at a time and there’s no penalty for not returning them. After all, if a kid likes a book so much that they want to keep it at home, that means it’s doing its job and supporting a love of reading.

To get the community involved, we hosted themed literacy nights with hot chocolate and other treats. It gave families something fun to do together and highlighted the importance of reading. It also gave us a chance to distribute some of the extra books we had—nobody needs 50 copies of the same story in their book room!—to families that didn’t have many books of their own. And to make sure our impact was as broad as possible, we shared our model with literacy experts so that other schools and organizations can follow it and build equitable literacy programs in their communities.

Being named a National Gold Award Girl Scout is definitely an honor. Finishing this project and seeing the joy on the kids’ faces was everything to me—and it tied together everything I’ve learned through Girl Scouts about supporting my community. The students might think it’s just cool to get a story they want to read, but the truth is, once a kid gets a book in their hands the opportunities are endless.