Imagine moving to a new country and having to learn the language, embrace the culture and understand the social norms. This is exceedingly difficult, but on top of that, imagine not having access to a library. You have very few ways of accessing books, which aid you in learning about the new world around you that is the country you have recently moved to. You have no way to learn how to communicate with people. According to radio station WGBH, “73 schools in Boston out of 126 do not have a working library.”
Many students at the Boston International Newcomers Academy (BINCA) face this problem, as they have emigrated from various countries and do not speak English. In addition, the school previously did not have a library, which made it extremely difficult for students to not only learn English but also have the ability to read simply for enjoyment. Gabriel Sol Aronson Fontes ’19 and Naomi Spector ’12, an English teacher at BINCA and Fontes’ godsister, respectively, have created the idea of building a library consisting of “multicultural and multilingual” books to aid these students in their pursuit of knowledge.
Fontes was first introduced to students at BINCA through Spector, who invited him into her classroom to get the experience of teaching students. Fontes wants to become an English Language Learning (ELL) teacher in the future and therefore wanted to experience the environment at BINCA. Once Fontes realized that the school did not have a library, he and Spector took action.
A survey was created that asked students which books they desired in the library. The books for the library were ordered based on those requests. A variety of books were ordered, ranging from romance to books in students’ native languages. Fontes and Spector are trying to add books with authors from “across the African diaspora and the global south and foster a sense of internationalism” in order to decrease the number of books that are written and read from a white perspective. Fontes and Spector hope that with authors who are from minority groups, students at BINCA are better able to connect with the books they are reading. The construction of the library is still in progress, and students are working with Justus Davis ’19 to paint a mural on the bookshelves in the library with symbols that represent the countries they have emigrated from.
Fontes explains his own rapture with books by describing how “My grandma used to illegally supply books on women’s reproductive health into Portugal during the fascist dictatorship. You know how risky that is? Her neighbors were being imprisoned and murdered by the secret police for far less than that. My commitment to reading runs deep.” He believes that through working with and aiding students at BINCA, he is able to connect to his family and understand the hardships they went through. He can also understand the sacrifices they had to make for their children, which have allowed him to attend Brandeis. He also feels that through working with the students at BINCA, he is able to pay his family back for the sacrifices they made and also aid the world by helping those in need.
Students at BINCA have explained what the library means to them, highlighting how “it [is] very important because it will help improve my ready [sic] skills and learn vocabulary” and it “[i]s important to have a place where you can feed your brain with knowledge,” according to an email to The Brandeis Hoot. A library is essential to the success of these students in the future. Without a library, these students are at a disadvantage in their education.
Fontes urges people to apply for grants or receive funding in order to aid local communities. He hopes money will go towards aiding local communities rather than guest speakers at Brandeis because that creates a bigger difference and aids those in need. He would like to thank “Will Brummett and the Rich/Collins Fellowship, Melissa Stimell and Lauren Jordahl at the Meehan Social Justice in Action Grant, Ingrid Schorr and Ingrid Pabon at the Bernstein Festival of the Arts, Elaine Wong and Joan Tarkulich at The Brandeis Pluralism Alliance, Professor Ramie Targoff and Sheryl Seller at Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy” for making the project possible.
Lastly, Fontes explains his fascination with books by highlighting that, “[b]ooks are a companion. Books are solace. Books are an escape. Books are an invitation into a new world. Books are a stepping stone. I couldn’t imagine going to school without a library!” Books provide us with the knowledge we need to face the world around us. Without books, we are nothing, therefore a library is crucial to students as they progress in their journey through life.