One book for every student.

One book for every student.

That's the goal of the local Reach Out and Read effort being jointly undertaken by South-Western City Schools and the South-Western Education Association, the union that represents the district's teachers, nurses and guidance counselors.

That's 20,549 new and gently used children's books. And the public can help.

Reach Out and Read, according to the nonprofit organization's Web site, seeks to promote literacy in even the very young by making books part of pediatric care.

"Reach Out and Read trains doctors and nurses to advise parents about the importance of reading aloud and to give books to children at pediatric checkups from 6 months to 5 years of age, with a special focus on children growing up in poverty," the Web site states. "By building on the unique relationship between parents and medical providers, Reach Out and Read helps families and communities encourage early literacy skills, so children enter school prepared for success in reading."

The program was founded in 1989 at Boston City Hospital, now Boston Medical Center, through a collaboration between pediatricians, family physicians, nurses and early childhood educators. Reach Out and Read now has 4,121 programs at clinics, hospitals and health centers in all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia.

Reach Out and Read serves 3.5-million children each year and distributes more than 5.7-million books annually.

The local book drive is in its third year, according to Nancy Palsgrove, a teacher at Hayes Intermediate School and spokeswoman for the South-Western Education Association.

It's an opportunity, Palsgrove said, for schools to give back to the community.

"It's really to promote pediatric literacy and to encourage family literacy prior to the child's entrance to school," she said.

The first year the union undertook the book drive on its own, and got in excess of 20,000 used volumes that were given to Nationwide Children's Hospital.

The district joined in last year, according to Palsgrove, and it was decided to concentrate only on new books for youngsters seeing pediatricians through Children's Hospital.

"So our numbers were substantially down," the SWEA spokeswoman said.

This year, with the economy as troubled as it is, both new and gently used books once again are being sought and the goal is to bring in at least one volume for every student in the district, Palsgrove said.

District residents may bring books that are appropriate for ages 6 months to 5 years to their neighborhood schools, she said. All building secretaries have been alerted that people may be dropping off books or even making donations to Reach Out and Read. Checks should include "Nationwide Children's Hospital" in the memo line, Palsgrove said.

The book drive is already under way at some schools but officially runs March 2-6.

It kicks off on "Read Across America" day on March 2, a literacy promotion effort sponsored by the National Education Association in honor of the birth date of children's author Dr. Seuss.