Promoting literacy on the Hilltop with “Books and Badges”

Officers from the Columbus Division of Police and volunteers from Starfish Assignment promote literacy to children on the westside through the “Books and Badges” program.

The Columbus Division of Police and The Starfish Assignment are celebrating two milestones in their ongoing partnership of community service.

Since 2019, Starfish has been partnering with the police department and other law enforcement agencies for “Books & Badges,” which connects law enforcement officers with elementary school students to encourage literacy and build relationships.

Recently, the group launched “Books & Badges” en español. On March 25, four Columbus police officers read books in Spanish to 170 children at St. Mary Magdalene School in the Hilltop. Many of the students at the school speak English as a second language, so to hear a Columbus police officer reading to them in their native tongue was especially meaningful.

“I grew up in the Bronx,” said Officer Sam James. “I came here when I was 11 years old. I did not speak English when I got here. Every time I ran into someone that spoke Spanish, it was like, ‘Thank you.’ It’s like suddenly you’re not just one more person in the crowd. You’re someone that I know I can point out, if I need help, I can talk to you.”

In addition to “Books and Badges,” Starfish donated its 50,000th book.

Since December of 2019, officers in six states have read to tens of thousands of children through “Books & Badges.” During each event, an officer reads a book to the students, and Starfish Assignment provides every child with a copy of the book as a gift from their law enforcement friends.

“This program started in December 2019,” said Starfish founder and president Nicole Banks. “That was right before the pandemic. We didn’t know how that was going to go, but officers wanted to connect with children, so they kept it going all through the school closures and everything. They were still reading to kids. They went into the community centers to read, which were open a lot of the time. They love this program and they wanted to connect with children. So all through that pandemic, when the schools were closed, they were still reading. It was a beautiful experience. So we’ve grown all through that. It’s wonderful.”

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