Test scores at Parkway Heights Middle School, in South San Francisco, have been very low for the last seven years. To improve students' English skills and general literacy, two English teachers have helped set up a bookstore inside the school. The store provides a variety of interesting books at affordable prices and an opportunity for students to run it themselves. VOA's Faiza Elmasry visited the school and prepared this report voice by Faith Lapidus.
Seventh grader Regina Espera is one of more than one dozen students who help run the school bookstore. They rotate assignments as greeters, guards and cashiers. And they make sure other students get the books they like to read.
"If people want to hold books," she says, "you write it down and hold the book for either after school or the next week."
Prices are affordable, ranging from $2 to $3 a book. Since it opened less than two months ago, Bhavna Kumar says, the bookstore has become a favorite place for students to hang out.
"My friends and my classmates really like the bookstore because they get to read the books in the bookstore," she says. "They also get to do something during lunch when they don't have anything to do."
Eighth grader Adele Rios says most students like the bookstore more than the school library.
"It has more up-to-date books, I'd say that. The books are new," she says. "If you want to buy them, you can. You don't have to check them out for a certain period of time. Also the library is maybe big, but it's very quiet." By contrast, Rios says the bookstore is a social gathering place for students. "More people are attracted to it because it's new."
Language Arts teachers Trish Issac and Swaicha Chanduri worked together to create this bookstore. They received a grant from Schoolwide, an organization that helps schools set up bookstores. Having such a resource at school, Isaac says, is a valuable tool for improving her students' literacy.
"We need to get books in the hands of our kids," she says. "Our population is very low socio-economic and a lot of Latino families. So they don't have strong literacy backgrounds in their families."
Swaicha Chanduri notes that the books available in the bookstore provide what students don't always get from their textbooks.
"The text books have short stories, which are great to teach them the standards," she says. "But they are not necessarily teaching kids to love literature. It really just takes one book that they are interested in, that they couldn't stop turning the pages to get them kind if interested in reading."
She says students are invited to choose the books they like to read. They are also encouraged to participate in running the store. In the process, she says, they learn a variety of skills.
"They all had to come partake in an interview," she says. "They all had to fill in an application. So that taught them some interview skills. They all come on time. When I send passes for them, they come. They listen to what they need to do in training. It's showing they have a lot of responsibility.The ones that do cash register are really reliable in terms of counting the money, they know exactly what they need to do, how to make change. I think they are learning those kinds of skills, too, and just interacting with people."
Language Arts teacher Issac says the store has brought a whole new spirit of learning excitement to the school.
"For example, our principle last week made a donation, picked out some books, and drew some students' names, and came and delivered them to their classrooms," she says. "Another teacher suggested a 'traveling book box' where teachers can show the kids what books in that box are because not everyone is going up to the bookstore at lunch or after school. It's only open one day a week."
Parkway Heights teachers hope the store will eventually be open more often, and especially during summer vacation. They want more students to get the chance to discover the value of books and the joy of reading for themselves.