Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Sara Clarke-De Reza
Updated: Feb 17
By Avery Castellani, Riley McHugh, and Sara Clarke-De Reza
The Researcher Spotlight series is designed to introduce the public to the many fabulous members of the Busload of Books research team. Washington College student researchers Avery Castellani and Riley McHugh designed a set of questions- here are Dr. Clarke-De Reza’s responses!
What made you want to be a part of the Busload of Books research project?
Robbi and Matthew made me want to be a part of this research project. Their enthusiasm is totally contagious, and the fact that they’re turning all of that energy towards creating a national conversation about Title 1 Schools, poverty, and students’ access to books is amazing. I haven’t met many people yet who don’t want to somehow be a part of it!
How did you get involved in the research?
I was helping Matthew and Robbi collect some scholarly literature that illustrated the literacy-related challenges experienced by children living in low-income communities, such as book deserts, poorly funded libraries, and the achievement/opportunity gap. When I went to share these articles with them over coffee, we got to talking about what a unique opportunity a nationwide tour would provide for educational researchers “bonkers” enough to take on the task. An hour (and a few coffees) later we’d sketched out a preliminary and ambitious research question aimed at answering the never-before-asked-at-this-scale question “What is the impact of a one-time author/illustrator visit on students’ literacy attitudes and beliefs?” The rest is history that we are, in fact, bonkers enough to be a part of.
How does the Busload of Books project relate to the other research and teaching that you do?
My teaching and research both look at the ways that society shapes learning, and that learning can, in turn, shape society. At Washington College, I teach classes on the social and cultural foundations of American education, so I’m no stranger to thinking about the ways that historical and structural inequalities contributes to significantly unequal schooling experiences for children across the United States today. I also do research on “informal learning environments.” For me this usually means studying the ways that school-based educators collaborate with community educational organizations, like museums, to create accessible and transformative learning experiences for students of all kinds. The Busload of Books tour is a great opportunity to think about how school systems work, and what community collaboration can do to support that work and improve the experiences of a wide range of students!
How have your personal and professional experiences influenced you while working on this project?
I have a son who is an avid reader, and who has always had access to any book he wanted to read. I can see the ways that reading has shaped, and continues to shape, who he is and how he sees the world. I also understand what a huge privilege he has through that kind of access and experience. I think about him when I see the smiling faces of Busload of Books tour school students on social media, and feel hopeful that the enthusiasm of these one-time events will help communities, states, and the nation rally to provide meaningful access to all American students.
What are you most excited to learn about through this research?
So much! So far, however, I have to say that the best experiences I’ve had are interacting with the teachers across the country who are working to make this tour, and this research project, happen. We are truly lucky to have these folks in our schools and communities. Looking forward, I’m most excited to start analyzing the data shared by classroom teachers. This will allow us to see the many different, creative, and amazing ways that teachers prepare their students to be readers, writers, and illustrators.