When Gorrie Elementary School mother Haylie Katz discovered Bess the Book Bus, she immediately thought of her children’s school community. With a committed PTA team that partners with nonprofits monthly to teachers who encourage students’ kindness potential, this neighborhood school has nurtured many standout kids to know.
How did collecting for Bess the Book Bus start?
Aaron Katz (second grade): My mom saw Bess the Book Bus at Barnes & Noble and she started to follow her on Instagram. She thought it would be good to bring it to Gorrie. My mom, brother and I went to school early to hold up signs to get kids excited about bringing books to school to help other kids.
Evan Katz (fourth grade): We have around 500 kids at Gorrie Elementary, and we thought, well, maybe each kid would bring in two books. In the first week, we collected 800. Then 2,000 or 3,000 the next. The idea really took off! Our goal was to get Gorrie to collect 800 books for Bess the Book Bus, and we beat that number.
What was the book drive like at school? What happened at the end?
Caroline Bentley (first grade): The book drive was something where kids would bring in books to give to kids that don’t have as many books as you. We even got rewarded for bringing in books! I love reading, and I wanted to share my passion with everyone.
Finley Smith (fourth grade): A paper went home to ask for book donations. Then we brought books from home in our backpacks and placed books into boxes at school. We knew the books were for kids that didn’t have books.
Why is it important to collect books for kids that may not have them?
Stephen Sestilio (Kindergarten): Because they want books to learn so they get smarter. Having books at school helps me learn more.
Milana Biasi-Abbott (fifth grade): Kids in school need to learn to read because if they can’t comprehend reading, they probably won’t be able to read for the rest of their lives. We know that if you don’t learn to read from a very early age, you also won’t be able to write.
Together, the students at Gorrie Elementary collected over 6,000 books. That helps 10 schools and over 5,000 kids. How does this make you feel?
Andrew Deitzer (second grade): This makes me feel good because we are helping kids read more and different books. I felt like this collection was important to make their libraries grow.
Genevieve Unruh (fifth grade): It makes me feel good because we got books for kids that don’t have books at home. We want them to learn at an early age. If they learn, then they will have a good future. I want to see all kids be happy and successful now and in the future.
Brantley Liss (third grade): It makes me feel happy. It’s better to give than to receive.
Your school hosts monthly service projects that help the community. Why is this important?
Oliver Baumohl (second grade): Because we are donating to people that need these things. Reading new books, for example, takes you to new places, and that’s pretty cool.
Caroline Deitzer (fifth grade): It highlights how much we care about our community. It also shows that Gorrie is a strong school. In this collection, it was easy to hit 6,000 books because every class gave. I hope that anyone seeing this learns that it’s easy and important to help each other.
Charlotte Henry (third grade): Because people need different things and learning kindness at school helps all of us. Maybe other schools will be inspired too.
What did you learn from this experience?
James Sestilio (Kindergarten): It’s nice because they don’t have books, and the kids are going to be happy.
Madison Beatty (second grade): We are giving people something special to do when they pick up a book they haven’t read before.
Harper Smith (third grade): I learned that some kids have less because of reasons they can’t control, and that’s not fair. They still need an education. I feel like this collection will do this—help those people have more books and education.
How have collections and donation opportunities like this for Bess the Book Bus made you feel about all the good you can do as a kid in Tampa Bay? Do you feel like you can do something on your own?
Adeline Boucher (Kindergarten): Yes. I want to sell lemonade and use the money to help kids in need.
Chloe Underhill (fifth grade): Kids working together, like our whole school did, really makes a difference. I feel like anyone, no matter what age they are, can do anything.
Knowing that your kindness is changing lives, what is something you want other kids to know about being kind?
Attinella Remy (first grade): Being kind is easy and it makes me feel proud of myself.
Jack Pfeil (fourth grade): Being kind helps others have new opportunities that are fun and new. Being kind makes others happy and makes me happy too.
Originally published in the February 2024 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.
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