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Columbus City Schools Helps Students Grow Home Libraries Through New Partnership

March 24, 2023 -- Zionna Martin-Wilson dreams of baking bread she can sell to those around her, but as a third-grade student, she is far from owning her own bakery. So instead, Martin-Wilson uses her kitchen to practice, and cookbooks are her guide. 

Thanks to a new partnership between Columbus City Schools and Bookelicious, an organization whose AI-driven platform matches students with books curated to their interests, Martin-Wilson is now the proud owner of The Best Ever Bread Book by Lizzie Munsey. 

“I’m obsessed with cooking books. This book is going to help me make Swedish bread,” Martin-Wilson said. 

Martin-Wilson, a student at Avondale Elementary School, was one of the thousands of K-5 students across the District who received books from Bookelicious as part of the District’s #TogetherWeReadCCS initiative. This district-wide initiative utilizes partnerships and investments with the goal of helping students develop literacy skills and gain a love for reading. Partnering with Bookelicious to grow students’ home libraries is one way CCS is achieving this.

“61 percent of low-income families have no books in their homes. We know that’s a barrier for many of our children, and we’re looking to do away with that,” said Jennifer Ey, CCS Director of Literacy. “To get to come to the school and watch the books go into the hands of the children, it’s months of hard work coming to fruition.”

To receive their books, students created online profiles on the Bookelicious website. Then, they each designed their own ‘bookmoji’ – an online persona they could customize with their interests. As they created their characters, outfitting them with everything from sports equipment to alien companions, the website recommended books based on their design choices. CCS then used these recommendations to send students a customized pair of books to keep.

Bookelicious CEO Lea Anne Borders said this collaborative work helps students discover new books to engage with and enjoy. 

“What we do at our core is match children with books that they will love,” said Borders. “As a child, you may not know where to begin. We’re here to help children grow their reader identities.”

Students can use the recommendations to expand their book wish list on the Bookelicious website. CCS will use these lists to send additional books to students at the end of the year. Chief Experience Officer at Bookelicious Anne Wissinger said sending students books tailored to their interests is important for encouraging kids to read.

“You can provide access to books, but if a student doesn’t have a reading life, they won’t know what they want to read,” she said. “Students already know what they love. We help point them to the books.”

Once a student discovers a book they enjoy, they can use it as a guide for finding their next read. And thanks to another community partnership, students won’t have to wait until the next Bookelicious giveaway to check out new books. Bookelicious also partners with the public library to provide students with books year-round. This allows them to access books in the summer months when school is not in session.

“Our site offers books through the public library. The library fulfills Bookelicious wishlist requests with their books,” Wissinger said. “This has been the vision all along, that kids can access the books 24/7 instead of having to buy them. The most powerful thing parents can do this summer is to check out their child’s reading wishlist and start going to the library.”

Martin-Wilson was so excited about her books that she started diving through the pages seconds after receiving her set. She is excited to read more and continue exploring books that will help her learn new recipes.

“I like cooking, and I like reading,” she said. “It’s my one subject that I love the most.”

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