$50 for 20: A Dollar General Grant Winner’s Shopping Spree

The $50 for 20 Program made possible by the Dollar General/YALSA Summer Learning Grant had a broader reach than we had ever imagined. The idea was born from a conversation I overheard between a student and the counselor as I was passing in the hallway. The counselor asked, “What do you like to do during the summer?” The student replied, “I just read my mom’s books over and over.” She didn’t have her own books.

Our original was to have high school teachers select twenty of the most at-risk students who needed books at home. We then gave each student $50 each to spend on books and took them on a field trip to the closest bookstore, Books-A-Million, which is 70 miles away.

We started by planning with the 9-12th grade English teachers to help identify the twenty students who would benefit most from having books to read over the summer. Once they were identified, I met with each student individually and explained what we had planned for them and checked to see if they could go with us on the scheduled trip. I met with the principal and received pre approval for our school district to provide the bus driver’s salary, the fuel expense, and the cost of a meal for each student.

On the day of the field trip we loaded the bus and our first stop was at the administration building where the district superintendent handed each student a $50 bill and addressed the group on the importance of reading. The students were all smiles!

The next stop before leaving town was our local Dollar General where the students personally thanked Mrs. Faye, the manager, for the grant funding!

The trip was filled with anticipation. Students were talking about what it was going to be like at the store and what books they hoped to find. Upon arrival (and the stampede from the parking lot to the entrance), we were greeted and treated to an introduction to the staff and a quick explanation of the store layout.

Students were turned loose to shop.  For the entire two hours they were making selections, I walked around having conversations with students about the books, genres, and just literary conversations in general. Students were so excited. They really had to prioritize and evaluate which books they would purchase because in the beginning they all had way more than $50 worth. I saw some students strategizing and partnering up with others to get the best deal for books that they wanted to read; they figured out by sharing and exchanging stacks with one another they could each read twice as many books. Some students pooled their change to give to another student who would not have had enough money to make his purchase. There were also some who were very protective of their books and didn’t even want anyone to touch them.

Students could not wait to begin reading – they started on the bus trip home!  

What you don’t see by looking at these pictures is the student who is wearing the same clothes three days in a row, or the student who is the primary caregiver for her mom who has depression/anxiety and does not leave the house, or the student whose mother is incarcerated for drugs, or the student who is the caregiver for her five younger siblings and live in unimaginable circumstances. These stories just go on and on. Thank you so much Dollar General Literacy Foundation and YALSA for providing this opportunity.

Once back at school we had about an hour to reflect and share our book hauls with each other. I created a Google document with the following questions for students to use to guide their reflections.

  1. How did you feel when you first learned that you would get to go on this trip and have money to buy books?
  2. Did you start making any plans when you found out that you were going to get to spend the money at the bookstore?
  3. The day of the trip, how did you feel when the superintendent placed the $50 in your hand?
  4. How did you feel in the store?
  5. How did you feel when you found out these books were yours to keep and read over the summer?
  6. Describe your experience shopping and selecting your very own books.

Below are some of the students’ responses.

  • As I was given the money, I was kind of in shock. I was so happy and I literally could not wait to go. I had been prepared all week long to go on this trip. I also may or may not have googled Books-a-Million for three days in a row. I haven’t been into a book store before. I could have spent years in there just skimming through different kinds of books.
  • I have never been to a bookstore and bought books, but I’ve always wanted to, so when I got told I was getting to go on this trip, I was very excited to get to go get books. Once we went to the administration building and the $50 dollars was placed in my hands, I thought, Wow, I’ve never seen or held a fifty. It was crazy.
  • I felt excited, as I was going to experience getting to buy a new book. I’ve only ever bought a cheap used book, never a brand new book fresh off the shelf. I felt awestruck because I got to spend [the fifty dollars] on one of my favorite things in this world. I couldn’t decide which book to get, I probably had at least thirteen at first, and weighed it down to the three I liked the most. The four employees catered to us only, and acted like our best friends, and did not judge us on which book we wanted to choose.
  • The bookstore was amazing. I was happy and excited when they said that we were going to be able to keep the books, because I was really in need of finding new interesting books. I am very thankful to the people that funded us with the money to buy books, it really means a lot because most of us wouldn’t of had the money to buy books we wanted.
  • My first experience in a books store was exhilarating. I was overwhelmed by the amount of books that was available to me. I couldn’t believe that I was able to actually keep the books that I chose. If it wasn’t for the money that was lent to me I most likely never would have bought a book or even set foot into a bookstore.

Mrs. Tressie Fowler, M.Ed., is the Danville High School Library Media Specialist. The 2018-2019 school year marks her 24th year in public education. This is her fifth year as the high school’s Library Media Specialist. The library serves middle and high school students grades 7-12. Mrs. Fowler has a Elementary Education BS, Gifted and Talented MS, Instructional Technology MS, from Arkansas Tech University. She is a National Board Certified Teacher and is currently an adjunct instructor for ATU teaching Internet Resources and School Librarian Leadership and Collaboration.  

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