published Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke pushes citywide book drive

Mayor Andy Berke, right, greets students and volunteers from Baylor after concluding a news conference held Monday at Westside Recreation Center to announce a reading initiative for the city.
Mayor Andy Berke, right, greets students and volunteers from Baylor after concluding a news conference held Monday at Westside Recreation Center to announce a reading initiative for the city.
Photo by Doug Strickland.
  • photo
    Tallye Tucker uses a reading program called Lexia on a computer before a news conference held Monday at Westside Recreation Center by Mayor Andy Berke to announce a reading initiative for the city.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke announced Monday the first citywide book drive to help put books in the hands of students served at the city's 17 youth and family development centers.

Until April 9, residents can drop off books at the centers, public library branches and McKay Books. All of the books will be distributed to the centers on April 12 to encourage more reading in the communities struggling the most with literacy.

"When I came into office, traditionally what has happened was the city was not involved in education," Berke said at a news conference Tuesday. "What better way to tell everybody that [reading] is important than to have a citywide reading book drive?"

After Berke made the announcement, he donated the first set of books, along with his favorite, "The Velveteen Rabbit."

Berke also announced the Lexia Reading program introduced last year at several centers is now at all 17 locations. In January, the City Council approved the latest set of computers, iPads and the reading program that cost $165,000, which were recently installed.

The last two centers introduced their reading programs this week, said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the city department.

Nine-year-old Si-nyah Douglas, who has come to the Westside center every day for the last three years, said she likes playing the games on the computer and sounding out the letters on her screen.

She said she uses the computers about twice a week.

Si-nyah is one of about 800 students who actively uses the programs. Berke said 940 more students have enrolled. On a regular basis, Smith estimates about 1,700 students visit the centers after school.

With the book drive, residents also can buy a book at Barnes and Noble; the Hamilton Place mall branch will give a portion of the proceeds in gift cards to the centers.

In August, workers converted some of the rooms in the centers that were once weight-lifting rooms or dance rooms into libraries. The city also hired 20 after-school tutors to oversee student homework at the centers. This is part of the citywide effort to turn the former recreation centers into space used for learning along with recreation.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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