Gilbert School Principal Sarah Landry, left, and Crystal Schmidt stand last Thursday outside Sylvio J. Gilbert Elementary School in Augusta. Schmidt’s children — Ricky, left, and Catharine — are with her. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — As Crystal Schmidt laid on the couch with her 8-month-old baby, she thought how great it would be for students to have new books during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schmidt’s 5-year-old son, Ricky, attends Sylvio J. Gilbert Elementary School in Augusta and is learning under a hybrid model.

She thought of him and the other students who would benefit from having books to help with their literacy and keep things interesting while they are home.

“Kids are having to self-regulate what they are doing right now, and literacy plays a big role in their future and being productive,” Schmidt said. “Being part of a community and being educated to a level that they can hold decent jobs starts with … reading. Being stuck at home, you have to find something for them to do, “and a new book to pull out will be paramount.”

Schmidt, a consultant for Usborne Books & More, went throughout the community to see if local businesses would make donations to help pay for the books.

Her goal was to get a $5 book in the hands of each student in kindergarten through sixth grade in the Augusta schools.

Last week, Schmidt met her goal, raising $3,500 from local businesses, including $500 donations from Sprague & Curtis Real Estate, Capital Area Credit Union, Maine State Credit Union and Augusta County Federal Credit Union. Walmart also gave $500.

Usborne Books & More matched the donations and gave Schmidt about $6,000 to buy books.

Sarah Landry, principal at Gilbert Elementary School, helped Schmidt select the books.

“She did a lot of research on what she wanted the kids to get,” Schmidt said of Landry. “It’s not specified for every student, but every grade. The K (kindergarten) through fourth grade will get phonics books, and sixth-graders will get a book from ‘The Impossible Quest’ (series).”

Landry chose the “Billy B. and Hey Jack!” book series for students who might have some difficulty reading. It has fewer words on each page and is better for children who are still learning to read.

“We wanted to make sure that everything we sent home with the kids they were able to do on their own,” Landry said. “We have remote learning three days a week for grades one through six, so we wanted to make sure they are confident and can manage everything that they send home.”

There are enough books for the 1,080 students at the Augusta elementary schools, who will get a book in their backpack before the February break.

Schmidt said Usborne Books & More has a program that comes to the rescue if a student’s book “gets wet in the tub” or “the dog eats it.” Parents or members of the school staff simply must tell Schmidt or the company and the book will be replaced at half price.

Extra books from the order will be donated to the school libraries, and the Usborne replacement program would also apply to books that become worn or tattered. Extra books would result from boxed sets or collections ordered in bulk.

Schmidt said she hoped the books will encourage students to read more, especially as Augusta kicks off the Read To Me Challenge in February. The challenge by the Maine Department of Education aims to have students read during the month.

Landry said she was also planning a challenge for February break, in which the Gilbert Elementary student who reads the most books during vacation would receive a prize.

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