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OCTOBER 17, 2011

The number of illiterate adults in New Orleans is nearly twice that of the national average, a statistic that's all the more frightening when we consider their children. For an elementary school student coming home to an illiterate parent, basic literacy is the benchmark for average reading rates, not the starting point. This child will likely be unaware of literature’s loftier goals—expression and communication.

Big Class is hoping to change that by involving elementary school students in the creative process behind words on a page. Former elementary school teacher Doug Keller, founder and director of Big Class, saw the need for change and started project No. 1 with 43 of his first graders at Lincoln Elementary in Marrero, LA, just outside of New Orleans. By integrating creativity and collaboration and taking the community involvement to a whole different plane, Big Class hopes to grow literacy in the New Orleans area by supplementing existing school classrooms with engaging, student-driven projects.

“Our schools are approaching literacy in a vacuum," says Keller. "They're treating literacy as a skill, and in doing so are leaving out literacy's grand purposes—put simply to communicate and express. Big Class engages students in literacy by reinstating that purpose.”

Big Class No. 1: Animals was a collaboration between students and illustrators, designers, and artists. The result is a book written by kids and illustrated by adults. With $1,500 raised on Kickstarter, Keller printed 250 copies of the book, 43 of which went home with the students. The rest were distributed to teachers and independent book sellers. To date, 100 copies have been sold, with the profits going towards future projects.

New Orleans' distrust of the education system is palpable in the shaky relationships between parents and their kids' schools. “What this did was build the trust back into what was going on," says Keller. "There was a physical object that documented that their kid was learning and enjoying learning." Not to mention, it represents the great leaps forward the kids took with their writing.

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