ROCKVILLE – Two Montgomery County high school graduates have joined forces to make sure area children have books to read to start them on a path full of success.
During the school year, students can get books from the library, and, in some neighborhoods, there are Free Libraries filled with books for the taking. However, during the summer, many students whose parents work long hours do not have the means or ways to get to a library. This leaves them little opportunities to practice their reading skills.
That is why Kevin Isabelle-Peete, a 2013 Northwest High School graduate, and Isaac Cudjoe, who graduated from Seneca Valley High School in 2012, are gathering books that people are donating to their newly formed company, Brothers With Books. They distribute them at area summer programs and intend to set up small library boxes filled with books at area parks or wherever children gather.
To the duo, it is about giving back to the community that helped both of them during their youth.
“There are lots of protests that go on, but we wanted to do something for our community,” Cudjoe said. “We call it your human duty.”
The two men have pored through Montgomery County Public School data to see where the most students receiving free and reduced-cost meals live. They aim to make sure those areas are teeming with books.
“Wherever the need is, we will find it,” Isabelle-Peete said.
They already have dropped off more than 800 books at schools, including South Lake Elementary in Gaithersburg as well as some schools in Montgomery Village and the District of Columbia.
Isabelle-Peete is currently majoring in elementary and special education at Towson University. He explained that county schools are teaching more students whose first language is not English. That demographic does necessarily have access to books, Isabelle-Peete said.
Also, he explained that students today are more likely to watch a movie than read a book. Without learning to read, a great math student may not succeed because he or she did not understand the word problem, he noted.
A lack of reading and, in particular, a lack of a love of reading, creates “a downward spiral, especially during the summer,” Isabelle-Peete said.
“Reading is a lifelong journey. It’s not just (kindergarten) through 12,” said Cudjoe, who came to this country from his native Ghana when he was only three years old.
Cudjoe said he would have languished in school if not for a fourth-grade teacher who saw that he scored high in a math aptitude test. The educatator realized Cudjoe was a smart student but having trouble reading.
“Giving somebody a book can last more than one day. It will set the student off without any limitations” for success, said Cudjoe. While working on Brothers for Books, Cudjoe completed a master’s degree in conflict resolution and currently is a fellow with the African Middle Eastern Leadership Program in Washington, D.C.
Isabelle-Peete called it “really refreshing to see that something so simple as giving books can bring people together.”
When young people say they do not like to read, it often is because they have yet to connect with the right books, the two men said. The goal is to find something they like and give them books about that. For Cudjoe, it was learning about his native Ghana and other people’s immigration experiences, he said.
The two men met while attending Church of the Redeemer in Gaithersburg. “We hit it off,” Isabelle-Peete said.
While their specific goal is to get books to many young people as possible, the long-term goal is to spread their idea. Hopefully, other people throughout the country will replicate their actions.
“We could be the foundation,” Isabelle-Peete said. “If we could get this to expand, it would be wonderful.”
“Kevin and I are not unique,” Cudjoe said. What makes them special is that they found a need and then acted on it, he said.
“If you see a need, let’s try our best to fill it,” Cudjoe advised. “We want to inspire others to focus on their community.”
On June 13, Cudjoe was the graduation speaker at his former high school. He urged the graduates to get out of their comfort zones and always remember to give back to those who helped you.
If you spent the past four years with people who look like you, “consider welcoming someone new to your circle,” he told the graduates.
Cudjoe encouraged the students to speak out when they have a problem. “For it to change, you have to tell someone what is going on,” he noted.
“I didn’t hate math. I hated doing math on an empty stomach,” he said, noting that was information he never told anyone at the time.