Kali Skiles knows how much her students love to read.
But providing books for the children in her classroom at the Round Lake Early Childhood Center can be a challenge. Skiles says Round Lake Area Unit District 116 does all it can to provide needed resources, but often she has to travel to the local library or even reach into her own pocket to get books.
But on Tuesday, the nine early childhood classes at the center received a special delivery.
Thanks to a guest column Skiles wrote in February for the Daily Herald, a Lake Zurich reader who cares about giving children the tools they need to dream big and the generosity of a suburban business, every 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old in Round Lake's early childhood program received dozens of new books to enjoy.
It all began when Skiles, an early education teacher in District 116 for four years, wrote a column for the Daily Herald that advocated for better and more equitable school. The column was part of her yearlong fellowship with an advocacy organization called Teach Plus Illinois.
In the letter, Skiles explained that while her cousin, Luke, enjoys Chromebooks and treats such as hot chocolate and doughnuts at Vernon Hills High School, her students lack bilingual books and other needs.
"Round Lake works really hard. We have a great school system. We do a fantastic job with what we're given," Skiles said. "As I mentioned in the op ed, (Luke's) experience at Vernon Hills High School is very different than what we do in Round Lake, and it's not because there's not good teachers or they're not trying. It comes down to funding. The funding is very different."
The column caught the eye of Shari Gullo, who was saddened to know that living in an area of great abundance, Skiles and her class still did not have the materials they needed, particularly books.
"We should be pouring our dollars into these kids to help them, to level their playing field," said Gullo, a Lake Zurich resident. "I know what early childhood did for my son."
Gullo previously had worked to help children not so close to home. Last spring, through an organization called Step By Step, she organized a book drive that collected almost 11,000 books to set up home libraries in poverty-stricken coal mining areas of southwest West Virginia, where, for some, the nearest library is a 50-mile round trip.
"There are so many resources here compared to West Virginia, where 68 percent of homes don't have one children's book," Gullo said.
After reading Skiles' column, Gullo reached out to Cottage Door Press, a Barrington-based publisher of children's' books, and asked if they could help.
"Normally, we work with organizations such as Bernie's Book Bank in Lake Bluff to help distribute books to children in need," said Melissa Tigges, marketing manager of Cottage Door Press. "But we were thrilled that she reached out and put us in touch with Kali Skiles to learn more about their program and needs."
Since the company's founding in 2014, it's been driven by the philosophy that reading is learning, Tigges said.
"We know that our books offer access to an excellent first book experience -- which is a critical first step in building a lifelong love of reading and learning," she added.
Tigges said they learned about the themes the classes are focusing on this year and were able to select books that matched their needs.
Skiles said the new books will "help instill a lifelong love of reading and a lifelong love of learning."
And Gullo is not the only person who has stepped forward to help her class since her February column, Skiles added. An Elk Grove Village resident, for example, donated a projector for her classroom.
"That's really been touching to me, that so many people care about our kids and care about our schools," Skiles said.
Gullo said her mission to help Skiles is not complete. Understanding that the center also needs Spanish-language books for its bilingual classrooms, she hopes to connect with someone who can provide these, or she may raise funds so Skiles can purchase the books.
"If we can continue to get books into the hands of the students there, we will be able to build up a population of future adults who love books and enjoy reading," Gullo said.