chilNo. 835


When it comes to education in America over the past several decades, in many ways, we have had the tail wagging the dog, which is to say we have put more emphasis on athletics than academics. We have some notable exceptions, but by and large this is the case, as you will find community after community able to find money to build a new athletic facility but unable to find money to make the library and the curriculum what it should be. The ironic thing about this statement is that we can all be winners both in the classroom and the various venues of athletic competition, if the focus and emphasis is placed on the right things.
I want to give you just one small example of what I am saying by telling you about Greenbrier, Arkansas, a great community about 10 miles north of where I live. This community of a little more than 4,000 people is very progressive, has good schools, and this past year had an outstanding football team. Several months ago, Marilyn Battles, president of First Service Bank, decided that Greenbrier would be well served if they had a Bookcase for Every Child project, to give quality, personalized bookcases and a starter set of books to some deserving, but needy, children in their area. With little fanfare, she began to talk with her fellow citizens, and many got on board to launch their very own bookcase project. It is patterned and developed along the lines of our copyrighted project started here in Conway back in 2005.
In a short period of time they had a great group of local leaders committed to serve on their Greenbrier Bookcase Project Committee. After a couple of meetings, and countless e-mails, they set the date for their first Bookcase Literacy Banquet. They also had Rick Whitley, former elementary principal, and his son Matt, committed to build the bookcases. The first thing the committee did was have a local book drive, and decorated boxes were placed around the community so local people could donate gently used or new pre-school children’s books to the project. They did a great job, had plenty of donated books, had a fantastic banquet and were on their way to having a very successful project.
Now, here is where they took our basic Conway ideas and improved on them to the point that I am calling it, “A Great Literacy Idea.” At this point in the season, their football team was undefeated (6-0) and one of the teachers suggested that members of the team read to the children in the lower elementary grades the day of the game. Later that evening at their tailgate party, which most schools have, they advertised free food for anyone who would bring a children’s book as their contribution for the food. That one night they received more than 2,000 books for the project, enough to last for several years as “starter sets” for the bookcases. Many children in disadvantaged homes do not have any books, but one of the greatest benefits is awareness for the project. Greenbrier does not have a local newspaper to generate the level of publicity necessary for success. Now, everyone knows about the project.
It’s true that academics and athletics can go hand in hand, but when academics is not your top priority, everyone is the loser. A student athlete or cheerleader can be all-American or all-everything, but if they never learn to read well and speak well, they will leave school or college behind and face a future that is not nearly as bright as it could have been with a town and school that has its priorities in the right order. Why not start an all-volunteer bookcase project in your community?
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To begin a bookcase literacy project visit You won’t go wrong helpind.)