By Margaret King
Harborside Elementary Associate Principal Kim Callado (left) and teacher Jessica Bruder look over the newly delivered Sally Ride Science books. Above, Principal Lisa Forehand and Bruder show off a few titles.

When the pandemic forced Chula Vista’s Harborside Elementary School to switch abruptly to remote learning, teacher Jessica Bruder found herself worrying: How would her young students get books to read at home?

“Here at Harborside, most students are socially and economically disadvantaged,” she said. “Some of them don’t have even one book of their own at home.”

So Bruder launched a drive to buy books for her students. Through Scholastic, the children’s book publisher, she held an online fundraiser that brought in almost $5,000 from 140 donors. Then she turned to leaders of UC San Diego Extension, which oversees Sally Ride Science, to see if they could help.

Extension pitched in with a donation of 2,100 Sally Ride Science books for young readers. Topics of the colorful books range from adaptations to climate change and from clean energy to space exploration.

Leaders of Extension’s Education and Community Outreach Department said the book donation fits perfectly with the university’s mission. “UC San Diego is not just an isolated school in La Jolla,” said Associate Dean Edward Abeyta. “We are actively reaching out to the community during the pandemic.”

Assistant Dean Morgan Appel agreed. “This is part of a broader strategy to support teachers in their time of need but also to support parents who are struggling to maintain an effective learning environment at home,” he said.

Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, cofounded Sally Ride Science in 2001 to inspire students of all backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Before becoming part of UC San Diego, Sally Ride Science published several acclaimed books series, including “The Inside Story of Our Solar System,” “Key Concepts in Science” and “Cool Careers in STEM.”

UC San Diego Bookstore delivered the donation to Harborside Elementary, part of the Chula Vista Elementary School District, on Aug. 28. Bruder is enthusiastic about the books, and she thinks her students will be, too. “The books are amazing!” she said. “It’s cool that they are all about science. I know my students are really excited about science.”

She also appreciates that the Sally Ride Science books feature real-world stories of diverse scientists. “Students need role models that they can see and they can aspire to be,” she says.

Bruder, who grew up in Chula Vista, has taught at Harborside since 2013. Last year, she had a combined class of first and second graders. This year, she will be teaching second and third graders.

Bruder plans to share the Sally Ride Science books with other Harborside Elementary classes.

The successful book drive has left Bruder with boxes and boxes of books in her classroom and home. She plans to share the Sally Ride Science books with classes throughout her school. “I’m sure these books will all be loved,” she said. “Teachers will keep some in their libraries to teach from and send some of them home for students.”

She believes it’s crucial for young students to have access to actual books rather than relying strictly on online learning materials. “They need to have books in their hands to physically turn the pages, see the pictures and see the words,” she said.

School officials are still working out logistics of how to get the books into students’ homes in the midst of the pandemic, but Bruder is confident they will find a safe method. “We’ve given out computers, we’ve given out lunches, so I’m sure we can figure out a way to get these books to students at home,” she said.