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John Paul the Great senior organizes a book drive for children in Child Protective Services

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There was a great deal of bustling in the AP English classroom after school in January as students at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Potomac Shores came to assist a classmate with her school-wide book drive. Gabriella Molseed, a bibliophilic senior, saw a need for children's books for the local shelter and led an effort to gather books for the group.

"I found a local emergency room where kids are under the care of Child Protective Services," said Molseed. "They go there to be checked for injuries or illnesses before entering foster homes. I started collecting books that go into gift packs given to the kids so they have things of their own. Other items included in the packs are stuffed animals or coloring books. After collecting, we brought the books to a room, categorized them by age groups and wrapped them. I then drove the books to the shelter."

While Molseed led the project, two groups of students assisted her: the National English Honor Society and students in her Applied Leadership in the Dominican Tradition class.

The ALDT class, unique to John Paul the Great, teaches students what it means to be a leader, how to adapt as a leader in various settings and how to live virtuously. Through the course, the students, nicknamed "The Cohort," study virtuous men and women and apply what they have learned to self-led projects that benefit the school or another nearby community.

"One of the purposes of this class is to learn that leadership responds to a need, and Gabriella was looking at the needs of her community," said Mae Kenna, ALDT teacher. "She chose something she was passionate about, which was literacy. Gabriella worked hard on her project while also maintaining COVID restrictions. Her project was a beautiful way to fulfill the passion she has to promote literacy and also serve those in need within our community. I think that this class allowed her to find the niche where she could do just that."

"We learned about virtues we needed to work on, ones that we practiced throughout our project," said Molseed. "We learned to figure out the scope of a project. We helped each other. The project and class were both successes." 

Molseed's project was timely. There is an urgency to help kids read and give them access to books. The pandemic has halted students across the state and country from accessing in-person classes and books, causing the literacy rate to dip. The Washington Post recently reported on the pandemic's impact in Washington: "The number of kindergartners hitting early literacy targets this fall dropped by 11 percentage points, compared with kindergartners who took the exam at the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year. First graders experienced a drop of 12 percentage points."

Similarly, the latest scores for Virginia students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that fewer than 40 percent of fourth grade students meet the state's proficient reading benchmark.

The solution to the problem, top educators have concluded, is to give students access to more books. Through her book drive, Molseed has taken an active role in the fight against illiteracy. Her faith grew as well.

"This was the first time I was able to apply myself as a leader for a cause I really care about, and I was able to trust in God the entire time that it would work out," she said. Thanks to her efforts, children in Child Protective Services can have their own books and move in the right direction for reading levels. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021