The Princeton Varsity Club (PVC) and the Princeton University Class of 1980 partnered to deliver nearly 1,000 books to Christopher Columbus Elementary School in Trenton, N.J., completing phase one of a project that will see 1,980 total books donated to the school.
The initiative was born out of the Class of 1980’s community service project for their 40th reunion, for which they “ looked to build a project that would not only give back to the community, but also underscore its 40th reunion theme of the ties that bind” according to Class Co-President Deb Kushma ’80. “Given the fundamental role of reading in education—and in everything we do—we felt we had found the perfect partner in the PVC and its Reading with Tigers program, and we were incredibly excited about supporting the Tiger legacy of reading/books with a book fair at one of its partner schools, the Christopher Columbus Elementary school in Trenton.”
Kushma worked with Mason Darrow ’17, Assistant Manager for Athletics Advancement, who oversees the program for the PVC, and had a relationship with the staff at Columbus Elementary. The two travelled to Trenton in February of 2020 to meet with the school staff and discuss logistics of the project, which initially took the form of a book fair during which students could pick their own books to take home. “The main thing I remember from that meeting was how excited and grateful they were at the prospect of receiving so many books. I was really grateful to be in a position where I could help make a difference, and really excited for those children to benefit,” said Darrow.
Unfortunately, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic forced studies to go virtual, and eliminated any chance of an in-person book fair. Kushma and Darrow stayed in touch with the school throughout the summer and fall, and determined the best course of action was to pivot to a “class-wide read” that would allow teachers to take advantage of new books as part of their virtual instruction.
As Kushma said, “when Covid hit, and reunions and schools went virtual, we realized we wanted this project to continue, as it could be the one way Columbus’ students would have books connected to their curriculum to read at home. And, our classmates became even more generous, donating some of their reunion fee refunds to the project, thereby enabling us to be able to provide Columbus with 1980 books. So we were determined to find another way to get students their books. The Columbus teachers became a critical partner, selecting books that would impact their students.”
By December of 2020, the teachers had all selected the books their grades would receive, but Covid restrictions presented another problem for delivery, as access to the school building was severely limited. To solve that, Darrow said “We decided to have our vendor deliver them to our Athletics offices in Jadwin Gym, knowing we’d have space to store them there until we were able to deliver them to the school.”
Finally, restrictions on building access eased enough that they were able to make the trip. “From there, a mighty team of two of us were able to repackage the books into individual book bags sorted by class and deliver them to the school (in two very full cars)” said Kushma.
In total, Kushma and Darrow delivered just under 1,000 books to the school, three for each student in every grade. The school is now hosting weekly supply pickups for families, where the students are able to pick up their books. The school principal is happy to report that the students have been thrilled to receive their new books.
The work doesn’t stop there though, as the Class of 1980 has procured funding for another ~1,000 books. On their plans, Kushma said, “we are now ready to embark on the second phase of the project, which is to have the teachers order books that will be waiting for their students when they finally return to in-person learning, creating the school’s first true in-class libraries.”
On the project as a whole, Darrow added “I was really excited to be able to see this project through, especially amid all of the challenges and delays we faced as a result of the pandemic. Our departmental motto is Education Through Athletics, and I’m so excited we were able to use an athletics connection to help enrich the educational experience of so many students. I also want to thank Deb Kushma for being a tremendous partner, and to the entire Great Class of 1980 for their incredible generosity.”
About Reading with the Tigers:
For over a decade, the PVC has helped to bring Princeton varsity student-athletes, representing a variety of sports, to local elementary schools as part of “Reading with the Tigers.” In addition to Christopher Columbus Elementary School, the program has recently partnered with the Princeton Charter School as well as the Princeton Public School District Elementary Schools, including: Community Park Elementary School, Johnson Park Elementary, Littlebrook Elementary School and Riverside Elementary School. A typical year sees Tiger student-athletes visit each participating classroom once in the fall and again in the spring.