SOAR WITH READING

Listen to the Podcast

With the goal to help improve book access for underserved children in every borough and beyond, JetBlue launched its ninth annual Soar with Reading initiative in its own hometown, New York City. For the first time, free book vending machines will be set up in five of the city’s boroughs to give local kids access to age appropriate books and help prevent the ‘summer slide’. To celebrate, JetBlue has declared Marley Dias to be this year’s Soar with Reading Ambassador. Join me as we discuss the program with JetBlue to learn more about its origins, its challenges and triumphs, and ultimately its future.

RESOURCES & LINKS

TRANSCRIPT

Molly Ness

Welcome to End Book Deserts, the podcast featuring the innovative people, and programs, who spread the love of books and reading culture in our nation’s high poverty areas.  I'm Molly Ness, lifelong reader, book nerd, teacher-educator, and the founder of End Book Deserts.  

 

(Music plays) 

 

Molly Ness

So, I have always been a fan of Jet Blue Airlines, they remind me of the days when I was teaching and I would take the only non-stop red eye flight from Oakland, California, to Baltimore to visit my family.  My daughter used to call them Blue Jet Airlines, and she loved their live TV.  But now, I love Jet Blue as a leader in the field of literacy.  Jet Blue Airlines launched the Soar with Reading initiative, which has placed free book vending machines in the Bay Area, Detroit, and now New York City.  Join me as we discuss the program with Jet Blue’s manager of corporate social responsibility, Tina Klaric.  I'm thrilled to be talking with my friends over at Jet Blue today to talk about their Soar into Reading program of all of the programs that I’ve come across, this one is just one of the coolest ones.  For listeners who have listened to podcast #1 with Doctor Susan Neuman, she featured the work that you guys are doing.  So, let me turn the floor to you and just have you tell us what is Soar into Reading, what’s your approach, and how are you overcoming book deserts and getting books into the hands of kids?  

 

Tina Klaric

Thanks, Molly.  First, I need to correct you a little bit.  Our program is titled, Soar with Reading.  This is or literacy program that we’ve been doing since 2011.  We started working in the space of education.  We did it because we know that our customers and our crew members, all of our employees at Jet Blue are called crew members, are passionate about education.  The other pillar and themes that we focus on include environment and community as well.  So, reaching out to our communities that we live, work, and serve is really important to us.  So, focusing on education by in 2011, we started doing basic book drives and just trying to get out to our different communities, get books out the way that you traditionally see a book donation happening.  And through that time, we started thinking about how we could really make a bigger impact.  We were introduced to Doctor Susan Neuman’s work, who I'm sure…I know you’re familiar with, and we had done some studies about book deserts.  So at that time, we wanted to recommission her and see, you know, what things look like since she last did the study.  And, through that work, found the statistics, which I know you’re aware of, that in Anacostia, D.C., outside of our nation’s capital, there was one age appropriate book for every 830 children, if I'm getting the statistic correct.  We think, you know, it’s just not right, and our team is really about trying to make an impact, and we wanted to think about how we could make an impact and be fun at the same time.  Our culture and values is about having fun and giving back, and the idea of the book vending machine came to life.  And, it was a really fun idea, and we wanted to see how it would do.  And, we found through the years, this surface year, with the book vending machines that is has made an impact in ways that we didn’t even think would happen at the very beginning of the program.  So, we’re really proud of what we’ve accomplished, and it’s nice to be able to get to communities in a different way, and reach out to kids that don’t typically have access to books.  

 

Molly Ness

So, before we get to the impact, which we’re definitely going to go there.  I can’t wait to hear all about it.  Let’s talk just a little bit about the logistics.  Explain what a book vending machine is.  I mean I know when I go anywhere, I see vending machines that, you know, sell junk food.  Now when I go into the airport, I see vending machines that sell toiletries, and electric goods, but I’ve never seen a vending machine that’s got books.  So, tell me about just the logistics of that.  

 

Tina Klaric

Sure.  So, our program is a summer-based program.  It runs for eight weeks.  The vending machines are stocked with a diversity of titles.  We’re talking different age ranges, and we’re talking just diversity of books in general – everything from: popular to animated characters, to crafting books, or word books, and illustrated books.  We have a diversity of titles, diversity of characters.  Over the course of eight weeks, we swap out the titles every two weeks.  So, our goal with the program really becomes giving kids the opportunity to build out their own home libraries over the course of the summer.  So, in these book deserts, we know that kids are not purchasing books; they don’t have access to purchase books.  We know the libraries are a really great resource, but we also know that book ownership really helps kids feel passionate about their books, and it gives them the opportunity to revisit them, and kind of give them love, and have that pride of ownership.  So, the vending machine is, you know, what you would expect it to be.  It’s a vending machine.  It has coils.  The books are prompt in.  And, we actually work with a touch screen.  So, in the touch screen, kids, or families, are prompted: have you used this machine before?  Yes or no.  It gives you a selection of books based on age range.  You push a touch screen and you can see a preview of the title that you’re selecting.  It has a description of what the book is.  So, in some cases, you’ll see kids standing at the vending machine for some time reading through the selection and really deciding if that’s the book for them.  They hit select.  The book falls down the vending machine, and they’re able to pick it up, and take it home, and keep it forever.  No strings attached.  We want them to take as many books as they want, and keep coming over the course of the summer, so they do have a robust library once the vending machines are taken away.  

 

Molly Ness

Let me…I'm picturing in my mind street corner in a busy urban area.  It’s probably hot because it’s the summer.  Kids can just come up to this vending machine, hit a couple of buttons, and out comes a book.  How cool is that?  So then, talk to me a little bit about where you put these vending machines.  How many are there?  How are you choosing their geographic locations?  What does that process look like?  

 

Tina Klaric

Sure.  So, the vending machines, we found through research, do best, and through our five years now, the program, we’ve really tried to place them in locations where kids and families naturally are.  So, we want this to be part of their daily routine.  A place that’s open and accessible for kids and families that might not be part of that immediate community to enter into.  So, we’ve been in locations, everything from: churches to grocery stores, and parks and rec centers, outside of summer pools.  This year in New York City, a variety of parks and recs, and we’re at one of the police athletic league location in The Bronx.  You know, it’s a great hub for the community there.  So, anywhere that kids really feel comfortable coming in.  We don’t want anyone to feel barriers.  There’s no sign-in sheet.  There’s no qualification for being able to get a book.  We just want anyone to feel comfortable in the setting that they are.  So, we do seek out homes or host locations, we call them, for these machines that can allow anyone to feel comfortable getting there.  We’ve also had really great success in libraries, which a lot of people questioned at first.  Well, why are you putting this book machine in a library?  People have plenty of books in a library.  It’s a great place to be, because a lot of kids, who frequent the library, can’t own books.  They’re passionate about books, but they don’t have that same access or ability.  So, we find it’s a great place.  We found in some cases in libraries it has allowed children and families who might not be frequenting the library to step in and to realize all the different resources that a library has opened to them.  So, for all those reasons we really look for places where kids and families naturally are, and they’ll be able to get excited, and keep coming back all summer.  

 

Molly Ness

In my conversation with Dr. Neuman in the first podcast about book deserts and about your vending machines, we referred to the famous line from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”  And, it sounds like when you build these book vending machines, they will come.  So, talk to me then, a little bit about your impact.  What are you finding in terms of the impact on individual readers, on the community, your numbers, talk to me about that?  

 

Tina Klaric

Sure.  Well, Dr. Neuman is the best person to go through all the numbers.  But, what I can tell is, we really do aim to be purposely in what we’re doing and making sure that we’re shifting the program along with research findings and studies.  We fly planes; we take people places; we know books take people places; and we do work with an advisory board of educators in literary space along with Dr. Neuman.  What we have found in terms of impact is that the vending machine does, it helps.  It gets kids excited about reading.  Dr. Neuman has done a few studies for us that show that children of lesser means are able to…who have access to the machines, are able to stay on par with kids of greater means, over the first sets of the summers.  So, that’s a really great…that makes us feel really great, that we’re allowing them the opportunity to keep learning and keep growing, and keep building their reading ability.  We’ve also found in terms of impact that as a book distribution program, it’s unique.  It allows them choice.  And, that’s something different than a lot of book distribution programs.  So, you know, we thought it was a fun idea, that vending machines would distribute books.  And, over the course of time, we’ve seen that we’ve made impact with children and families, and you know, we’re continuing to help support our different communities through distributing books this way.  

 

Molly Ness

And, they’re all brand new books, or are they slightly used, or what’s…?  

 

Tina Klaric

All of the books are brand new.  We have worked with a number of publishers in the past.  And this year, we’ve actually worked with…we have about eight or nine different publishers that we’re working with to source books for the machine.  These are new books.  We want kids in these neighborhoods to have the experience of getting that book out of the machine.  There is a seal on it that they get to open.  It is a gift to them.  And it is…it’s theirs 100%, no one else has ever touched it, and they can do what they please with it.  So, that’s something that we find a lot of pride in, that we’re able to offer such great titles, a diversity of titles, and they’re all new books.  

 

Molly Ness

And, it sounds like all of your kids who are accessing books through your vending machines are going to get the sheer joy and pleasure of that new book’s smell that so many of us, of readers, know and love, and cracking the spine, and putting your nose right into it, and what a rich experience that is.  

 

Tina Klaric

Absolutely.  

 

Molly Ness

So, what are your plans for the future?  Where is this program going in terms of longevity and growth?  

 

Tina Klaric

That’s a great question, and one that we continue to ask ourselves, as we continue to research the impact.  One thing we know, it works.  We love the program.  We love being able to go out to our different cities and be able to support them each summer.  So, while I can’t share any specifics with you, I can tell you that we are committed to helping to solve this issue of book deserts.  And, we’re committed to continuing this conversation to make people aware that there are parts of the country that children don’t have access, and that’s it important for them to have access in order to really feel passionate about stories and reading and learning.  

 

Molly Ness

Now, what is this hashtag book drop that I'm seeing and tagging Jet Blue on social media?  

 

Tina Klaric

So, hashtag #book drop is our kind of national “call to action.”  The vending machines are in New York this summer, but we have a national footprint, and we want to make sure that we are reaching out and continuing the conversation.  So, book drop is really our way of talking to our customers, and to our crew members, about those special moments that they’ve had with books and through books.  And, I think as I know I’ve had a few moments where a book has left a lasting impression on me, I continue to have those now with my children in seeing them experience books in a different way in learning to read.  So, we really want to open up that conversation and get people talking about what their book drop moments were, and are.  And, really, you know, talk about allowing every kid the opportunity to have their own book drop moment.  So, whether it’s finding that illustrated books are your thing and you’re really into it, or you know, chapter books, or mystery, or crime, or what have you, whatever gets you reading, and gets you excited, we consider those book drop moments – books that really leave lasting impressions on a child.  So, we’re encouraging our customers to share their moments on social media.  And when they share, we’re making a future commitment to continue to donate books in areas with very limited access.  

 

Molly Ness

I love that, and obviously, it’s going to be hard for me to choose just one book drop moment.  So, look for me on social media, because you’re going to be seeing a flood of them with the hashtag of book drop.  And actually, that’s a great segue into my next question for you.  One of the things I'm trying to do with this podcast is to increase conversations about reading and book culture, because for kids who live in book deserts, it’s not enough just to drop books and go; you need to build conversations and social engagements around books.  What would the world be like if every time you interacted with somebody you said, “Hey, what are you reading?”  Or, “Tell me about a book that influenced you.”  So, let me turn it to you.  I know this is a tough question to narrow down just to one answer, but what is a book that, from either your past, or your present, that has left a permanent impact on you, as a reader, or as a person?  What would your book drop moment be?  

 

Tina Klaric

Okay.  So, it is hard to answer this question with one book.  So, if you’ll allow me, I'm going to do two?  

 

Molly Ness

I will allow you to have three!  

 

Tina Klaric

My first book drop moment that I recall, and as we kind of built this campaign, I thought of was: the first book that I read that I was a teen and I felt like I was reading a book that was a little bit older, dealing with older themes, and I thought that was really cool.  And, that book was Russell Banks, Rule of the Bone.  And I remember reading it and sharing it with my friends, and it was just a really cool time in my life.  And I was, you know, able to see through a different lens this other, you know, fictional character’s life story, which was very different from mine, and I remember that as a favorite.  And, I love to read, and after that, I think I loved different kinds of books, but that was definitely a lasting impression.  Now as a parent, seeing books in a different way through my kids, there is one that’s a standout in our house.  It’s, The Day the Crayons Quit, and it is so much fun, and I love reading it to them.  I take on different personalities along with the different color crayons, and my kids have so much fun with it.  And, the best thing, as a parent, is to finish a book, especially one that’s a little bit more lengthy, and to end it, and to have the kids ask to start it all over again, which I gladly do with this book, over and over, and that’s a continuous book drop moment.  

 

Molly Ness

And hopefully, the kids that are accessing books through your vending machines are having similar moments in their homes, in their communities, because of the work that Jet Blue is doing through Soar with Reading.  So, I just wanted to end by commending the work that you guys are doing.  You have hit the nail on the head in terms of finding a fun, innovative way to engage readers in book deserts, literally, to bring books to the doorsteps of their communities.  And, it’s just been such fun to follow.  So, I appreciate your time, and like so much what you said about how Jet Blue brings people places with airplanes, and Soar with Reading is bringing readers to new places with books.  So, thank you so much for your time, and your energy, and your passion around this project.  And, for listeners, you can find more out more about Jet Blue and Soar with Reading on the websites.  Thanks again so much for your time.  

 

Tina Klaric

Thank you.  Great to be here.  

 

Molly Ness

That wraps it up for this episode of End Book Deserts.  If you know of a person or program doing innovative work to get books into the hands of readers, email me at molly@endbookdesert.com.  For more about my work, and for the program featured on this episode, check out our webpage www.endbookdeserts.com.  Follow me on social media at End Book Deserts and share your stories and reactions with a hashtag #endbookdeserts.  Thanks to Duane Wheatcroft for graphics and copy, and to Benjamin Johnson for sound editing.  Until the next episode, happy reading.  

 

(Music plays)  

Stay up to date on the latest End Book Deserts News.
End Book Deserts is proud to be a part of the Education Podcast Network
EPN_badge.jpg