For some Spring Branch ISD elementary students, a recent field trip to Barnes & Noble was their first ever bookstore visit. For others, the trip was different than previous visits as all students were given a $30 gift card to spend on educational purchases of their own liking.
The bookstore visit and student buying were made possible thanks to an ongoing partnership between Spring Branch ISD and National Oilwell Varco (NOV), as well as a longtime Good Neighbor to the district, Barnes & Noble Town & Country.
NOV supplied each mentor and student mentee match with a $30 gift card, which students could spend at their personal discretion. Thanks to an extra 20 percent discount offered by Barnes & Noble and the guidance of their mentors, all SBISD students returned to school with gift bags filled with new books and educational games.
NOV, a global energy-related corporation based in Houston, first partnered with the district in 2013. The firm’s local office currently has 30 employees serving as mentors in SBISD’s SpringBoard Mentoring Program, with more NOV employees joining each semester.
The district’s program pairs students in third- through 12th grades in a one-to-one relationship with an adult who serves as an advocate, friend and champion in the student’s life. NOV employees, along with nearly 500 other individuals who serve in the program throughout SBISD, give 45 minutes of their time each week to meet with their student on campus.
This year, with a wish to support SBISD’s focus on literacy and a goal to ensure all students are reading on grade level, NOV Director of Community Investment and Sponsorships Jason Bozic worked with SBISD’s Community Relations Department to develop the student field trip idea.
“We are very honored to partner with Spring Branch ISD, so together our company and dedicated employees that mentor students can be part of the solution to develop youth to their greatest potential,” Bozic says.
Houston-based NOV is a leading provider of equipment and components used in global oil and gas drilling and production operations, oilfield services and supply chain integration services. The company operates across six continents.
In February, 14 Westwood Elementary School students and their NOV mentors spent an hour at Barnes & Noble. The students moved through the store aisles with wide-eyed enthusiasm and their $30 gift cards in hand.
Barnes & Noble Manager Georgette Radford welcomed the students and their mentors. She spoke to them about the importance of reading and the love of learning.
“We appreciate all the opportunities with SBISD to encourage students to read,” says Radford. “It is important for students to visit a bookstore and experience all the knowledge available through books.”
Betsabeth Beyk, the Communities in Schools (CIS) project manager at Westwood Elementary, noted the impact this opportunity has to help reinforce the school’s focus on literacy.
“As a school, we are really empowering our students to have a passion for reading. All of them get to check out books from our school library, but not many get to call a book their own. With this opportunity, our students were able to choose a book about a topic they really enjoy and get to read it with their mentors.”
Research shows that students who have small, personal libraries of books, print magazines or related educational material are more likely than those who don’t to read at or above grade level, and to do well in school.
Fourteen middle and high school students from Westchester Academy for International Studies (WAIS) and Spring Woods High School had their own bookstore visit in February, too.
Anne Beck, the store’s teen literature specialist, walked students and their mentors through the genre’s latest selections, highlighting titles for individual students based on their interests.
Their adult mentors chimed in, noting books they remembered reading in high school, or books they had discovered and loved in their own lives.
“An opportunity such as this can be so rewarding for both the student and the mentor,” says Steve Schlabach, a middle school counselor at WAIS. “Giving our students the chance to have conversations over books with another adult stresses the importance of reading.”
“Since reading is such a truly fundamental skill,” he says, “anytime we can have students and adults reading together and talking about their reading, it is a good thing! The experience of having a shared activity, such as picking out a book, will deepen the connection the students and mentors have with each other and be remembered for years to come.”
As the SBISD students returned to their campuses, new books and purchases in hand, their excitement was evident.
One Westwood Elementary student chose to spend a portion of his gift card on an educational board game he could play with his mentor during their visits, while another displayed a science book he planned to read alongside and discuss with his mentor.
A WAIS ninth-grader examined the cover of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, a book his mentor recommended, saying that it changed his perspective on reading. And one WAIS student tucked away the bag that not only had her new books in it, but also one book for her younger sister so she could take this gift and pass it on.