Several Spring Branch area apartments have added children’s reading rooms as a new building amenity thanks to a Spring Branch ISD educator whose passion for literacy has sparked a nonprofit movement now growing apartment by apartment.
Aided by student volunteers from a high school club, leaders of The Kids’ Reading Room project opened its third children’s reading room recently in a Spring Branch area apartment complex, the Hammerly Walk Apartments.
The three separate apartment reading rooms are the book loving brainchild of Trish Schappell, who is a Rummel Creek Elementary School Interdisciplinary Coach, or iCoach.
The three brightly lit reading rooms are staffed by adult and high school volunteers weekly. Students can check out and return books on an honor basis. The rooms and all books, furniture and supplies are funded by private donations.
Schappell’s simple goals are the key building blocks for student success in school – literacy for all and instilling the love of reading in children.
At the Hammerly Walk Apartments located across from Cedar Brook Elementary, student volunteers with the Spring Woods High Key Club and a teacher volunteer joined dozens of students of all ages one recent afternoon after school.
In a large second-floor room, they sat on couches, beanbags or at tables, sprawled on a carpeted floor, paged through picture and chapter books, and browsed shelves of various book options – from Magic Tree House to Big Nate books, from pop-up books to tales about fairies.
Thanks to generous donors, there is a big selection of books to choose from.
Schappell read aloud a holiday-themed story, Halloween Night, and encouraged all the students to find books to take back to their apartments and read for the week ahead.
The honor system works well: Children put their decorated rulers into the stacks to mark where their books should be re-shelved when returned.
“This is an awesome opportunity for children to be educated and learn not just at school, but at home. It’s designed to be one-on-one between a volunteer and their child,” says Sharon Santos, the Key Club president at Spring Woods High.
“I would have appreciated something like this when I was younger, because it’s almost like having a mentor. As Key Club members, we all can take the initiative here to help younger students,” adds Santos, a senior.
“Most of my students live in apartments just like this one. Most of them don’t have a lot of reading material at home,” says Lindsey Copp, a SBISD prekindergarten teacher at The Lion Lane School for Early Learning. “This may be an option for my school.”
The Kids’ Reading Room, a nonprofit organization, was established about a year ago by Schappell and her husband, Vincent. The couple has worked tirelessly to find books and shelving donations, set up and organize rooms, and find willing volunteers.
“This is absolutely the most challenging thing I have ever done, yet it brings me such joy! Through the reading rooms, I discovered what I was meant to do,” Schappell says.
The Kids Reading Rooms have taught her valuable lessons about leadership and perseverance, and she knows that it could not happen without others. “I am tremendously grateful to my husband for all his effort and understanding, for the support of SBISD, and for all the volunteers that make this happen. Working with the students and volunteers is one of the highlights of my day,” she says.
The nonprofit started its community work in November 2013 when Castlewood Apartments Manager Joei Hayes opened up a space to create a “public” reading and meeting room for residents there.
Housman Elementary iCoach Shelene Livas and others have helped to pass fliers out to bus students that serves Castlewood Apartment as meeting reminders.
Since then, the Kids’ Reading Room at Castlewood has received many book and shelving donations from Rummel Creek Elementary parents and teachers, as well as from neighborhood and other donors.
Recently, the group received a huge surprise with a $5,000 anonymous donation. Another funding group, thepollinationproject.org, gave the Schappells a $1,000 grant to help them establish nonprofit status.
The second reading room opened in February at Gentry House Apartments. Story time is provided for children there and all students are encouraged to read on their own, with friends, and with volunteers. Nearby Edgewood Elementary promotes that reading room to apartment parents, students and teachers, too.
At Hammerly Walk Apartments, Cedar Brook Elementary encourages its students to attend. More than 30 students have attended recent Monday afternoon openings there.
Eagle Scout candidate Josh Castro and his friends have collected more than 3,000 books and 17 bookshelves for that reading room.
In recent weeks, The Kids’ Reading Room has added a new website and put out a call for more volunteers. Schappell hopes that more students will step up to help in the future.
Trish Schappell’s view only gets bigger. Next year, she hopes to open several new apartment reading rooms. She believes that the SBISD community is ready to partner with her to help meet her vision of a world filled with young readers.
To learn more about The Kids’ Reading Room:
Adult and student volunteers are needed to help maintain three reading rooms.
Professionals with fundraising experience are needed especially.
Where: Castlewood Apartments, 7000 Westview
When: Mondays, 4:15-5:30 p.m.
Where: Hammerly Walk Apartments, 8787 Hammerly Blvd.
When: Mondays, 4-5:15 p.m.
Where: Gentry House Apartments, 9001 Kempwood
When: Tuesday or Thursday, 4-5:15 p.m.
Contact Trish Schappell