Mt. Healthy City School District Teaching and Learning Department staff members uncovered a little gem in the heart of Over-the-Rhine of downtown Cincinnati. They learned of the store, when Top Ladies of Distinction donated new books to each district third grader. So, when seeking diverse books for the district’s students, they contacted Smith & Hannon Bookstore, the only African-American owned bookstore in the city. As one of the district’s key points for the Comprehensive Literacy State Development grant, staff members were tasked with finding books that feature African American characters and are written by African American authors. With this in mind, they reached out to Ms. Joyce Smith, owner of Smith & Hannon, to assist them in finding books. Ms. Smith is a former educator and school administrator, who understands the need for culturally appropriate books in classrooms. In addition to African American books, teachers of English Language Learners requested books that had both Spanish and English included to better help students learn the English language.
To date, the district purchased over 2800 books through Smith & Hannon through the CLSD grant for classrooms. The second through sixth grade gained two different class sets of novels for classroom reading. Additionally, kindergarten through second grade ordered books for read-alouds. In fact, a number of elementary classes will begin reading the books following Spring Break. The CLSD grant provided the district the opportunity to purchase books for classrooms that reflect the cultures of all students. As stated in Ohio’s Plan to Raise Reading Achievement, “Research shows that students are more likely to master literacy skills if the instructional materials and approaches have relevance to their own cultures. This allows learners to connect with the content in more meaningful, engaging ways,” (Jan. 2020, p. 20). Providing students with culturally connected materials builds that love of reading and continued learning that every educator wants students to take with them when they leave school.