LOW-INCOME SCHOOLS: TAKING SPORTS TO THE GRASSROOTS
READING PROJECT SPREADS BOOKS IN SCHOOLS
The transformative power of reading has already reached two generations of students in Petrópolis’s municipal schools. All thanks to the work of Maria Cristina Basilio, 73 years old, founder of the Blue Dragon Book Club.
Founded 33 years ago, the reading project has brought books, through volunteer work, to 56 schools and public institutions in the state of Rio de Janeiro’s mountain region, reaching thousands of children and circulating approximately two thousand titles each year to a population who does not have the means to buy books.
The initial idea came about when designer and mother of three children, Kiki, as Maria Cristina Basilio likes to be called, decided to get a group of children together to put on a play in Natal in 1984. With that, began the Blue Dragon Cultural Club, which for ten years promoted cultural excursions that placed emphasis on reading children’s books. With this activity, the Blue Dragon won, in 1994, second place among The Best Programs for Reading Incentives, a competition of the National Foundation for Children’s and Youth Books (FNLIJ) – the Brazilian chapter of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), and was awarded a collection of 230 children’s books.
ME, MY BOOKS, MY HOUSE
When the members of the first group reached adulthood, Kiki did not want to leave the books on the shelves and offered her collection, on loan, to the schools near her house. The maximum number of books for each school is 300 and there is no minimum. Today, the phase of the project called New Directions continues with only an old Olivetti typewriter, the sole asset of the project in addition to the books. The Blue Dragon has won the FNLIJ’s competition two additional times, increasing its current collection to include six thousand titles of new, quality books. “When I win a prize and it is announced, additional projects start popping up. People get excited,” she believes.
The major distinction of the project is the personalized service that each school receives. Kiki speaks with principals, teachers and students, selecting the titles not only to match specific age groups or individual class requests, but also to use for ongoing class projects. “I know my books well, I’ve read them all and I know how to discuss them. It’s important to influence the children with the stories,” she says. Running the project on her own, often traveling around by bus, she brings bags of books to several of the participating schools. And she relies upon help from the teachers to bring books to the more distant teaching institutions or those that receive larger quantities. “It’s a volunteer project that is completely linked to family and home. It’s me, my books and my house. There is no political interest, nor publishing interests, nothing. It’s me and me,” she makes a point to reiterate.
BEST SCHOOL PERFORMANCE
In the São Cristovão School, the first to participate in the project and which has been getting books for 22 years, the then principal and current pedagogical coordinator, Fátima Alves, analyzes the changes in students’ performance. “The children began to really like reading, they end up hooked on books. And they’re more interested in studying, with very good reading performance. The evaluation of school performance on an institutional level improved as well,” the educator points out. The vast majority of the schools allow the students to bring the books home, getting the family hooked on reading too and stimulating the parents who did not learn to read to become literate.
For Érica Lima Xavier, principal of the Municipal Professora Jandira Peixoto Bordignon School, the presence of the project is very important, especially since the school does not have a library. “We are in two temporary buildings, with no space for anything, but we receive a new collection of quality books every year. The children and their families are not lacking reading material,” she notes. The project also believes in teacher training in literature and promotes the Academic Conference, which loans theoretical books to teachers.
The batches of books for 2017 have already almost all been delivered to the 15 participating schools in Petrópolis. However, Kiki intends to diminish the number of participating institutions next year. “It will depend on my physical disposition. I really like to provide these children with what my children had and what others have. After the start of the school year, I feel very energized,” she says, thrilled, demonstrating that, as time goes on, she can rethink her decision and continue serving the various schools that currently count on her books.