HOLIDAY — Sierra Cook had a bright idea just moments after her fourth-grade teacher told the class they could keep their math textbooks for practice over the summer.
"Most kids wouldn't want to study," Sierra said. "It's summer. They want to play and have fun."
But the books, which the Pasco school district is dumping for a new title that better tracks the state's updated math curriculum, shouldn't go to waste. Sierra decided to gather as many as she could get and give them to kids who don't have any math books at all.
"The kids in Africa don't have a lot of stuff," said Sierra, an honor roll student at Sunray Elementary School. "I just thought if they needed some stuff, I could send them some math books so they could learn more."
The smiling, blonde-haired girl with Silly Bandz on her wrist and a passion for the Twilight novels asked her teacher if she could have more than just the one textbook. Within two days, teachers had inventoried, boxed and delivered more than 300 to Sierra's home, where they sit in the garage awaiting a ride from her grandmother's truck-driver friend to the Books for Africa warehouse in Smyrna, Ga.
Books for Africa, based in Minnesota, has delivered more than 22 million books to 45 African countries since 1988. The books, which cost about 50 cents apiece to ship, are donated by individuals, schools, libraries and other organizations with a goal of improving education opportunities for Africans.
"It's somewhat rare, but we do get kids who are participating," executive director Patrick Plonski said. "It's always exciting to see when it does happen."
Teacher Nicolle Wall was not surprised by Sierra's initiative, her first foray into charity work.
"We recommended the students take books to stay fresh," Wall said. "She took that and ran with it. She's a very globally minded child, more so than most fourth-graders."
Sierra's mom, Jennifer Soluri, encouraged her daughter to take on the project.
"I said it was a great idea," she recalled. "But if she wanted to do it, she had to do it from start to finish, because it's a lot of hard work."
Sierra organized the book drive and enlisted the adults who are helping her, Soluri said.
"It's the dimples," she said. "They're convincing."
Soluri mentioned that Sierra hasn't had it easy lately. She's attended four elementary schools in four years, and last year she was attacked by a friend's German shepherd while visiting her father. She goes for another round of surgery to deal with a lingering infection on her head later this summer.
"She's a trooper," Soluri said of her daughter. "I'm so happy she still has a good heart."
Even her older brother, 12-year-old Zach, is impressed.
"It's a good idea," he said. "That's so many more books they're going to have to learn with."
This summer, Sierra looks forward to outings to Busch Gardens and the Florida Aquarium. More than that, she'd like to travel with the book donation to Georgia and even to Africa, though that's not likely.
She's caught the charity bug and has started talking about her next effort. Maybe shoes, she said.
And as for those math books, one will stay home with Sierra.
"There is one in my room that I'm going to keep," she said. "I'm going to work on division."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.