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The Contemporary American Dream: The Impact of a Classroom Library Grant

On many classroom bookshelves, the characters that sit between the pages of books mirror a handful of prescribed personas; the wise man reflecting on his past preaching about the American Dream, the young white orphaned child that longs for a home or a greater knowledge, the coming-of age european woman with a sense of ambition but little personality, or sometimes, a monster-like creature or being fighting to establish its own identity. Very rarely do these characters or concepts, such as the “American Dream,” reflect the reality of the students sitting in public school classrooms. Initially, this disconnect causes a sense of dread or detachment when I hand these books to today’s teenagers. What inevitably follows this sense of detachment is a generation of resistant readers who have yet to be handed a book relevant to them or their experience as a young adult in 2021.

YA books on a red background

It was those stories beyond the Western Canon I had hoped to bring into my high school English classroom with the 2020-2021 Classroom Library Grant. While the rural high school I work at has a library open for students and there are several public libraries in the vicinity, it was abundantly clear in my first few months of teaching that the resistance students presented toward independent reading was not due to a lack of resources, but due to a lack of representation. Young Adult authors such as Angie Thomas, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Zadie Smith were among the many voices and perspectives I had hoped to expose to my students in an attempt to combat the lack of representation of a diverse group of writers and to redefine the American Dream.

As the books arrived one-by-one in Amazon packages, the bookshelf in the back of my classroom began to fill up. What was once a dusty shelf with a handful of old paperbacks was growing into a diversified bookshelf with contemporary voices. Shortly after the books arrived, I hoped my excitement was not in vain when I began offering loans to my students. Shortly after borrowing a handful of books, one student remarked, “having a selection of books in the classroom provides for more opportunities to want to pick up and read a book! It is inviting and a much easier solution than having to check out a book at the library, scan your card, and have a two week limit.”

books on shelves and book stacks surrounding a lamp

While the proximity to a new variety of texts exhilarated some students, the content and perspectives within the new novels excited others. Another student informed me that “having a variety of books in the classroom makes reading seem more engaging. Because these books are so diverse, I also have the opportunity to see myself in the main characters—which is something I wouldn’t be able to do in a majority of books.”

Even now, a week and a half before the end of the school year, students still approach me asking to squeeze one more book into the last few days of their junior year. Not only has their interest in reading peaked, but the atmosphere in the classroom has become more of a community of readers as students have learned that they do in fact have representation when it comes to literature. My hope is that they walk away with not only a glimpse of the hypothetical, but also a sense of a new diverse American Dream.


LMurphy-headLenora Murphy
Classroom Library Grant Recipient, 2020
Minooka Community High School, School District 111, Minooka, IL
Xi Delta Chapter, Alumna
Northern Illinois University, Dekalb IL


Sigma Tau Delta Classroom Library Grants

Sigma Tau Delta’s Classroom Library Grants are designed to enhance the Society’s goals of

  • promoting interest in literature and language in the surrounding communities;
  • fostering all aspects of the discipline of English, including literature, language, and writing; and
  • serving society by fostering literacy.

The Classroom Library Grants are also intended to support our members who have entered the field of teaching and need material support to help achieve these goals through their work in the classroom by providing their students with a library in their own classrooms, especially where access to school or public libraries or to books in the home may be limited.

The Society will award up to five grants of $400 each per cycle to help members of Sigma Tau Delta who have been teaching in a Middle School or High School classroom for five years or fewer. That is, applicants may or may not be recent college graduates; the Classroom Library Grant is intended to help new Middle School and High School teachers, whether in their first years out of college or in the first years of a second career, to build a classroom library for their students.

Criteria For Selection

In choosing recipients, the Classroom Library Grant Committee will consider the following criteria:

  • lack of economic and geographic access to books at your school, or another demonstrated need;
  • the explanation of how the classroom library envisioned will support your goals in alignment with the Society’s goals; and
  • supervisory endorsement of your classroom library project.

Please note that this grant is now only available to middle school and high school educators.

Deadline and Dates

Applications will be accepted Monday, October 11 through Monday, November 8, 2021, 11:59 p.m. Central Standard Time (CDT).

Past Classroom Library Grant Recipients

Building My Classroom Library: A Bright Spot in a Tough Year
Special Books for Special Students
New Books, New Motivation
If You Build a Classroom Library, They Will Read
Books are Our Passports to the World
Striking a Match


More from Footnotes: October 5, 2021

Fall Scholarship and Internship Application Dates
Sigma Tau Delta Internship Stipend
Outstanding Literary Arts Journal Award
Sigma Tau Delta Webinars
Regional Virtual Events

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