Feb. 22-28, 2002
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Old textbooks find new life in rural high schools

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Old textbooks find new life in rural high schools

By Matt Kelly

Vivek Jain remembers where he came from. His efforts to procure more modern textbooks for his old high school in Bluefield has led to the creation of Hoos for Learning, a student organization that gathers learning materials for under-funded schools.

Photo by Matt Kelly
Hoos for Learning founding members Olena Sexton (from left), Edmund Lee Etheridge, Vivek Jain and Kristie Southall work out plans for the future.

Jain, a third-year biochemistry major, and his brother, Anand, started their crusade when he found that U.Va.’s Introduction to Biology class had switched books, and students had no market for their old books.

A graduate of Graham High School in Tazewell County in the southwestern region of the state, Jain taught an SAT preparatory course there over the summer and knew that the students in advanced placement biology were using textbooks from 1989.

He started asking friends on Grounds who had taken the biology course for their old books, specifically Campbell’s Biology, Fifth Edition. He also contacted professors, one of whom, Leo Racich, donated a complete instructor’s set of textbook and work materials to the cause, and distributed Jain’s e-mail to his entire class. Jain was able to acquire 20 books for Graham’s advanced placement biology class.

Jain then contacted Addison Wesley Publishers, whose Benjamin Cummings subsidiary publishes Campbell’s Biology. The publishers donated three complete sets of books, 15 texts each, for the three other high schools in Tazewell.
The effort was rewarding, but time-consuming, Jain said.

“I realized I couldn’t do this alone. I was spending 10 hours a week on e-mail follow-up and picking up textbooks.”

He sought help from his friends, which generated its own ripple effect. Olena Sexton, who had donated her book to Jain, started thinking about her own school in Bland County, which did not have an AP biology course, but needed books for its advanced biology class. She contacted friends from high school who were students at Virginia Tech and Radford and was able to send 16 copies of Campbell’s Biology back to Bland.

Edmund Lee Etheridge, a second-year English and religious studies student from Hampton Roads, now wants to see if he can get donations of books for advanced placement English classes, noting that some students have no access to Shakespeare or Norton anthologies.

“This is mysteriously gratifying, very rewarding,” Etheridge said.

Franklin County native Kristie Southall said she got involved because when she attended Girls’ State leadership program in government as a high-school junior, she talked with a girl whose school provided new texts every year. Southall said she wanted to do something about the disparity that existed from one area to another.

Jain noted that the book drives dovetail with the University’s 2020 initiative in public service, which calls for students to be more active in the community.
Hoos for Learning is still working on other ideas to help students in schools in Southwest Virginia, he said. Beyond textbooks, the group has collected compact disks with animations of biological processes, which help bring the subject alive for students.

Lois B. Mullins, Graham High School’s advanced placement biology teacher, said the county was not planning on buying new books for the course for another three years. The 18 books she received from Jain were enough for all of her students, she said, although their mid-year arrival meant she had to do some catch up.
“I think it’s wonderful they are so concerned about keeping students up to date,” she said.

Mullins joked that her students were less pleased about the software Jain sent that enabled her to write more difficult tests.

Steve Peery, director of educational technology in Tazewell, expressed gratitude for the more than $5,000 in books and materials he received for his cash-strapped county.

“When I heard about this, I thought ‘what a nice thing for these kids to do,’” Peery said. “I can see a lot of applications for the rural areas, because there are a lot of bright kids, but the tax base and the resources are not as much, so they are at a disadvantage.”

The students’ efforts to help their communities also is influencing their career plans. Jain is considering Teach for America, which would require him to teach for two years in underprivileged areas. He said he would be returning to Tazewell not only because it is his home, but because the mountains have a hold on him.

Sexton also plans to return home after some travel. She said her goal is to become a dentist and work in her community, while also acting as a role model. “I would encourage these students to go to a four-year college and to get away from the tight-knit community for a while,” she said.

Southall said she wants to earn a master’s degree in chemistry. She said she has considered rural medicine, but will probably teach.


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