| August 31, 2023

Partner Spotlight: Back to School with BookSmart


Supporting teachers and caregivers beyond the school day by engaging families with digital books.

Dr. Ayana Hartzol, Martin Luther King Elementary School Principal

With the school year in full swing, so many of us in the reading community are primed and ready to support our partners in the classroom with tips, resources, strategies, and advice. But, in addition to the heroic work of educators at schools across the country, we know that what happens once the dismissal bell rings is just as important. 

Parents and caregivers after school and at home are a vital part of each child’s learning team too, especially when it comes to reading. 

That’s why we’re excited to see the work of partners like Martin Luther King Elementary School from the West Harvey-Dixmoor school district in Dixmoor, IL, where Worldreader’s free BookSmart app brings a high-tech, high-touch approach to their new school year both inside and outside of the classroom. Benefits range from making academic gains to supporting a child’s social-emotional wellness.

Fueled by a grant from Worldreader US, this school has launched a network of book clubs this fall with student, parent, and teacher engagement; uniting young readers and their families with books through technology. Teachers are also leveraging BookSmart daily in classrooms during independent reading time.

“We don’t always know if homework will make it home and what practice is being done, so our focus is on what we can do to make things easier for our students. This app is very accessible; there’s no book in the bookbag that needs to be found at night, and these days just about everyone has a cell phone right at their fingertips. It’s our hope that this tool will make reading at home easier.”

Dr. Ayana Hartzol, Martin Luther King Elementary School Principal

BookSmart instantly connects youth and caregivers to thousands of books and supporting activities. It is free of cost and available anytime, anywhere, and on any digital device, which is something that appeals to many of today’s educators. 

“Technology has become more and more influential with learning,” Hartzol continued. “When teachers are interviewed today, they’re frequently asked, ‘What is your skill level in integrating technology into the classroom?’ This is a new day and age that is fast moving and constantly evolving.” Worldreader estimates that 96% of families have access to mobile phones and nearly 20% of children have a phone by age 8. Further, mobile reading in the US is on the rise. Reading apps, meanwhile, have over 100 million downloads.

Hartzol stressed that reading continues to be a very high priority for her students, who are part of a school district with a 100% poverty rate and a very diverse student body — 55% of students are African American and over 40% of students speak Spanish.

“We have a strong focus on reading interventions. If our students can’t read, it can hinder them from being successful in other subjects,” Hartzol said, noting that while exposing young readers to grade-level standards is important, “We also believe in meeting kids where they are and focusing on their individual academic growth.”

This approach continues to be crucial on the heels of persistent learning gaps related to pandemic school closures and remote instruction. “We’re seeing some first graders who are only just now being introduced to books,” Hartzol said, adding that the district also has some students who speak languages for which resources can be difficult to find such as Yoruba, Hindi, Gujarati. Because Worldreader is a global organization, featuring books in a number of languages, the app will help meet this need as well.

Join us this school year in getting kids reading. To learn more about how to become a Worldreader US partner, visit our partner page.
➤To start reading for free today, visit BookSmart.