Back in 2016, English teacher Jarred Amato read an article in the Atlantic about “book deserts;” areas where printed books are hard to obtain. The story stuck with Amato. So much so, that he shared the article with his class at Maplewood Highschool. The conversation with his students was enough to spark the beginnings of Project LIT, a movement that has swept across the nation.
“I don’t think I understood the scope of the problem,” said Amato. “It was eye-opening.”
Are book deserts real?
When the Nashville teacher presented the idea of book deserts to his students, they started to consider if it was an issue around the Music City.
“We actually drove down Dickerson road and took note of the gas stations, the liquor stores, and the fast food, so there are healthy options to eat,” said Amato. “There’s actually an adult toy box, literally right next to the bus stop where kids get ready for school, across the street from an elementary school. And there are no bookstores, there are no books.”
Amato said it was that moment that his students decided to do something.
They started small, they created a name, “Project LIT”, and a logo. From there, they asked the community for books. Even posting a launch video on YouTube.
The community response was tremendous. They received over 10 thousand books.
But the next challenge was distribution. How do high school students make 10 thousand books accessible to a community that needs them?
They decided to transform old USA Today newsstands into what they dubbed “Lit Libraries ”
Amato admits that it was overwhelming at first. He was delivering thousands of books using his Honda Civic. He was also juggling preparing for a wedding, finishing grad school, and of course keeping up with his regular responsibilities of teaching.
Amato says they learned a lot along the way. He says it’s all about empowering the students. Students now set up conferences, read to elementary students and handle the duties of running social media accounts.
The Project LIT growth has been incredible, and Amato credits the students. He says their work on social media created interest in the program and in the Spring of 2017, they began offering an application for other communities to develop a Project LIT chapter.
“That’s where teachers can go to sign up to become a part of our movement,” said Amato.
In less than two years Project LIT has grown to 620 chapters. Amato says they’re almost in every state.
To learn more about the mission of Project LIT listen to Episode 83 of Class Dismissed. You can find Class Dismissed in your favorite podcast app or on iTunes.