Hermenigildo Paulo, left, Rachel Maloney-Hawkins and Joel Peck look through books that Paulo has collected as part of Reading Refuges, a project he started earlier this year to provide home libraries for students at Reiche Community School. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — A Reiche School language acquisition education technician is collecting books for students to inspires them to read and set them up for academic success.

Earlier this year, Hermenegildo Paulo started Reading Refuges to provide 61 English language learners at the school with home libraries.

Access to books and reading, according to the Young Readers Foundation, helps students improve their language, comprehension and critical thinking skills, widens their knowledge base, improves memory and leads to more success in the classroom.

“I decided it would be great if we could work with kids, but also work with families to make sure they have books at home and make sure they understand how important reading is for kids,” Paulo said.

The goal, he said, is to provide each student with 20 books, as well as a small crate fitted with a cushion so the children have a place to store their books and a comfy seat on which to read them.

The books collected are now being sorted by reading level and will be distributed to families Jan. 16.

This effort is aimed at Reiche’s English language learners in grades 2-5, but Paulo hopes to eventually expand the project to include more students throughout Portland.

“My goal is to start with Reiche and then move to other schools if we can get more books, more crates and more donations. This is just the beginning,” he said.

Paulo’s wife, Rachel Maloney-Hawkins, an art teacher at King Middle School, said the project grew out of a conversation they couple had one day about educational challenges across the district and how reading at an early age can break down barriers to education.

“We want to level the playing field for all students so they are getting the same opportunities that other families are as well,” she said.

“Trying to give our language learners as much of a leg up as we can is important,” she added.

The books collected are now being sorted by reading level and will be distributed to families Jan. 16. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Paulo said he started collecting books this fall from teachers at King Middle School who were updating their classroom libraries. Other book donations came from family, friends and community organizations. While he has collected more than 1,000 books, more are needed, especially those in other languages.

“That is my biggest concern,” Paulo said of getting books in students’ first languages.

Each book is categorized by reading level, from board books to young adult novels.

“Just having books doesn’t mean they will read,” Maloney-Hawkins said. “Paulo is talking with students and families about the importance of reading.”

For more information about the project, contact Paulo at [email protected] or by calling the school at 874-8175. Paulo also has an Amazon Wish List under the name Reading Refuges.

Comments are not available on this story.