Helping Others By the Book

There are a lot of ways to pass time on a commute. Podcasts, Instagram, and reviving a once-dormant addiction to Candy Crush are all viable options. Nia Brown ’22, though, used her trips to Sidwell Friends School to find inspiration.

“My mom attended school in Ward 7, and she was constantly telling me about the disparities within those schools, and I have to drive past them to go to Sidwell,” Brown says. “I felt like I was in a position to do something to help.” At first, she thought she’d just bring materials to schools in Wards 7 and 8, but then she thought, How is that really making an impact? “I wanted to have a unique solution to the problem.”

The solution was Boosted Reading, the nonprofit Brown founded with the support of LearnServe International, an organization that supports high school entrepreneurs who are looking to make changes in the world. After a preliminary presentation nabbed the organization $200, Nia went on to win $500 in the Incubator Final Pitch competition in February. Boosted Reading will not only bring books by and about people of color to a local elementary school; it will encourage them to read with a book club for 1st through 4th graders.

“I researched and saw that students’ reading scores were really low in comparison to schools located in, for example, Ward 3, where Sidwell is,” Brown says. “Reading for enjoyment is really how kids will make improvement in those scores. The books will be chosen by them, and I’m going to be giving them incentives. But the main theme is just reading for enjoyment, and then also making sure that the books that they’re reading are representative of the students.”

Brown knows how important it is for readers, especially young ones, to see themselves in what they read. “I know when I was reading in my elementary school,” Brown says, “I never really connected with any of the book characters I read about”—especially in books she was assigned to read. It was in her leisure reading that she found characters who made her feel seen. “I was a Black ballerina, so I wanted to read books about other Black ballerinas,” she says. “My cousin, who plays basketball, liked reading books where the main character was into basketball. And another cousin likes Doc McStuffins because she wants to be a doctor when she grew up. I noticed how that was similar to me, so I thought, ‘Okay, I want that to be my focus.’”

Brown is still in the process of selecting books; a few Black publishers have reached out to her to donate books to Boosted Reading to supplement the materials the LearnServe prize will buy. And while it looks like the summer book club will have to be virtual due to COVID, she is confident she can make it fun and engaging to the students—and that the sense of fun will lead to a boost in reading ability.

“Driving past Wards 7 and 8 on my way to Sidwell, I felt like I was split between those two communities,” she says. “I had to do something to help schools in Wards 7 and 8, which is part of my community. Community is really at the heart of this.”

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