Education Impact Team Gets Books into Hands of Valley Kids

June 30, 2020
Education Team

When Valley Leadership launched the first Impact Maker teams in 2019, it was to focus on the most pressing issues in Arizona, connecting life-long, engaged community leaders with the organizations who could use the perspective and can-do spirit of a group of Arizonans ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. 

We caught up with Erin Hart, COO of Expect More Arizona, Valley Leadership Institute Class 27 and Education Impact Team Chair to talk about what the team has been working on and how they’ve persevered in a time of uncertainty.

Valley Leadership: All Impact Maker Teams are focused on our most pressing issues – how has education in Arizona been further impacted this year?  

Erin Hart: During this season, we have seen some of the hardest challenges that our community has been through, including the Covid-19 global pandemic and racial injustice relating to the murder of George Floyd, both which exposed existing systemic inequalities. These inequalities are reflected in our education system and have perpetuated the ongoing achievement gap between white students and students of color. For us as an Early Literacy team (a team that is part of the greater Education Impact Team), we are driven to do our work to close Arizona’s achievement gap. As schools closed in March and libraries followed suit, many students across the Valley were left without daily in-person instruction or access to books. This has a strong potential to widen the achievement gap. All of these things fueled our work to move faster to do the best we can to get books to students, serve students of color and elevate authors representing different ethnicities and world views. 

VL: What has your team been working on to date? 

EH: The Early Literacy Team has been working on expanding access to books to Valley kids through Little Free Libraries. These libraries offer kids and families the ability to get a book and share a book for free. They are located throughout the Valley in housing complexes, in neighborhoods, health clinics and neighborhood markets. 

We have many Little Free Libraries across the Valley; however, many are out of books and do not have a sponsor that is ensuring the libraries are stocked on an ongoing basis. This is where the Early Literacy team comes in. We’ve been focused on working with our partners to find more sponsors to donate books and to build new Little Free Libraries.

As Covid-19 emerged, we saw schools and libraries being closed, which meant that more kids would not have access to books, at a time when they need them most. This is why we recently launched the #KeepPhxKidsReading Challenge to encourage Valley residents to donate gently used or new books to Little Free Libraries to give Valley kids access to books during the summer. This project gives VL alumni and Valley residents alike a tangible way to support literacy. Our goal is to donate a total of 500 books this summer through our collective volunteer efforts! You can get involved too, it’s easy, fun and a meaningful way to make a difference in the lives of children today! Find out more here.

VL: What Principle of Doing has been most impactful to your IM group during this time of crisis?  

EH: We center each of our meetings on the VL Principles of Doing. In these conversations we reflect on what’s been meaningful to us and how we’ve seen each Principle of Doing play out in our daily lives. These conversations have been really meaningful and have centered our work on these core values. The one that has risen to the top of our conversations has been Driven to Do. We are collectively driven by our shared outcome of increasing student literacy and use that to take action together to ensure more students have access to books. This gives our work a strong sense of purpose and urgency to move forward. 

VL: What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in the last two months?  

EH: Leadership is more than just being “Driven to Do”; it is also about being responsive to the context that we are operating within. Leadership is about action, but it is also about listening, learning and ensuring cultural competency is reflected throughout our work. It is about making space for conversations about racial injustices and ensuring people of color are represented in our work and on our team, which we are striving to do better every day.

 Want to engage on how we respond to coronavirus in Arizona? Join us as a part of Ready Together, where we’ll dig into the issues facing Arizona, talk about how they’ve been further impacted by Covid-19 and provide opportunities for you to help make a difference as we emerge from this crisis together. Or, get engaged in an Impact Maker Team. Click here to tell us you’re interested.