Bookmarks for Literacy


Jennifer Carlisle over at The Art of Education turned me on to Students Rebuild, an organization she learned about at the 2015 National Art Education Association (NAEA) annual conference. The Bezos Family Foundation is at the heart of Students Rebuild. They launched the organization in January 2010 in response to the Haitian earthquake. As Students Rebuild explains:

Through our Challenges, we tackle some of the world’s most difficult problems, issues that one cannot affect alone. We believe in coming together in order to make a collective impact. And we believe every young person should have an opportunity to help others—but not everyone has the ability to fundraise. Our Challenges require young people to create a simple, symbolic object which the foundation matches with funding. This approach allows students of all ages, backgrounds and in countries around the world to take action and see change on international concerns.

Bookmarks for Literacy

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Students Rebuild’s current challenge, ending on June 5, 2015, is an initiative to support literacy in Latin America, Afrrica, and Asia. The organization is partnering with Save the Children and Global Nomads Group, to “improve youth reading and writing skills around the world.”

For each bookmark that is sent in by the due date, the Bezos Family Foundation will donate $1—up to $300,000—to Save the Children’s Literacy Boost program in Latin America (Peru), Africa (Mali) and Asia (Nepal).

Our Contribution

bookmarks_group_sample2My classes are on a six-day rotation. So, it took me a while to go through all of my classes, but the kids were very excited to participate. I did a brief introduction about Students Rebuild and the Bezos Family Foundation (run by Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos’ parents, Mike and Jackie). My students did not know illiteracy was such a global problem. They also did not know about philanthropy. After I answered their questions, we got to making our bookmarks!

I pre-cut watercolor paper into 4″x6″ strips. I used this assignment almost like a formative assessment for them. Each class was tasked to take the concepts we either discussed in class or were presently studying and then transfer that knowledge onto the bookmark. In each class, we talked about scale and paper orientation; problems every artist has to solve.

Here’s a breakdown of how this looked for each of my classes:

Third Grade Landscape Watercolor or Tempera
Second Grade Lines & Shapes/Symmetry Marker
First Grade Landscape Colored Pencil
Kindergarten Open-ended Crayon

I told the students to leave the back of the bookmark blank. I designed a sticker for the back that included the following quote from Charles W. Eliot, one of the early presidents of Harvard:

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.

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In retrospect, I should not have used a poem on the back as the people to whom they are being sent will (probably) not be learning English. So, it could be a meaningless message to them. Live and learn, right? I also put my name and my school’s name on the back. Again, not going to be understood.

We did not embellish the bookmarks with tassels or other decorative items as I wanted to laminate them so they were more durable. Most of the kids took it very seriously and finished in the class period allotted. A few kids wanted to keep their bookmark which gave me the idea that I may want to use something like this as a fundraiser for my art program.

In the end, it was a very positive experience. Finishing the bookmarks in time for mailing was very time-consuming because of having to mount the stickers on the back, laminate the bookmarks, and cut them all out. But, that was my choice.

Next Steps

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I would encourage all teachers, not just art educators, to check out Students Rebuild. It is a wonderful way to teach kids to look to the needs of others and then create something meaningful as a gift of inspiration! You can sign up for their newsletter to learn about upcoming challenges. When you click the sign up link, just tell them you want to be added to their newsletter list in the “What’s on your mind?” field.

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