Rescuing discarded texts

Three Oakland University seniors aren’t going to let any more books go to waste.

Jon Besedich, an elementary education major, was placed at a special education camp this summer in the West Bloomfield district. While working there, he received word that the school was closing. They planned to sell the books for paper weight, however after the paper weight company turned them down, Besedich offered to take the books off their hands.

“We went and spent about three hours loading up about 5,000 books,” Besedich said. “We didn’t exactly know what we were going to do with the books, but we figured having the books would be a good thing at least.”

Besedich, along with fellow elementary education program students Kyle Bonkowski and Lori Alderman, suddenly found themselves with a vast assortment of books to sort through. The trio of student teachers began to look through the books and come up with some sort of plan.

The students each took some of the books to start their own classroom libraries, however even after that Besedich estimates they still had about 4,500 books.

“As student teachers, we know it costs a fortune to start a classroom library,” Bonkowski said. “We thought if we could sell them the books to other teachers for cheap it would be benefiting them as well.”

The students created a Facebook event announcing a used book sale to student teachers with books going for $5 a bag.

“From that sale we made about $300 and sold about 3,000 books, so at this point we’ve got $300, 1,500 books left, and three tired college kids,” Besedich said.

They put some of the money back toward gas costs from transporting the books, and then decided to donate the rest of the money and books.

“Why would these books go to waste when schools in districts like Pontiac, Detroit, and Canton are in such dire need of books?” Bonkowski said.

Bonkowski and Besedich have sent the remaining books to districts including Pontiac so they can see if any are of use to the schools. They plan to have any outdated or otherwise undesirable books sold for paper weight, in which case all the money will go back to the schools as well.

With the money they have made so far from the book sale, the students purchased school supplies to go with the books.

“Walmart had back-to-school sales with notebooks for five cents and packs of two glue sticks for 15 cents,” Besedich said.

Overall, he said they got about 400 glue sticks, 400 crayons, 75 packs with 10 markers each, plus over 300 notebooks and folders. They were also able to get Staples to let them go over the usual limit on penny folders in order to get even more.

Bonkowski said the first batch of supplies was dropped off at Alcott Elementary in Pontiac and the next is going to Fitzgerald Elementary in Detroit this week.

“We’re working with OU to handpick schools that truly need this help,” Besedich said.

As part of the field placement and student teaching program at OU, the students said they are placed in two suburban districts and two urban districts. Bonkowski feels this has helped them see where the needs are.

“We get to see what districts have money, and what are in such dire need for books,” he said. “Something like this has never been thought of in this area before. Everyone gets to help everyone out in this situation.”

In the future, Bonkowski said he would like to see the program expand to buying other goods for the school districts.

“We want to look into getting water and crackers and things like that for these schools too, because so many of these kids come to school without even having breakfast,” Bonkowski said.

Though all three of the students currently involved with the program are busy with their student teaching placements for the fall, they are working to continue the program with what little time they do have available.

“There has to be more that we can do on a regular basis,” Besedich said. “When this program is done for now with this round of books and money, we plan to start up all over again.”

The students encouraged anyone with a desire to help or with a knowledge of a particular district in need to contact them via e-mail. They are also in search  of opportunities when books may otherwise get discarded, including school closings and teacher retirements.

“Everything we’ve done is through word of mouth,” Bonkowski said. “We’ve even had teachers come forward saying they’re retiring and offering to let us come pick up their classroom libraries so we can redistribute them.”

Besedich wants people to help, no matter the size of their commitment.

“There are lots of bigwig places that try to help schools out, but we want to keep this more low key and local,” he said. “Big, little or small — it doesn’t matter. We just want to help out the schools, this is all about the schools.”

Anyone interested in donating or helping with the project can e-mail Bonkowski at [email protected] or Besedich at [email protected].

As education majors, both feel this is an important program for students to get involved with.

“There’s nothing better to do for your future,” Besedich said. “What better to do than to advocate for your own educational program?”

Photo Courtesy of Kyle Bonkowski.