School libraries in Galt, California, are open this summer, loaning materials to kids and their parents and preparing to circulate 240 new Google Chromebooks to families throughout the community.
This is a huge turnaround. Last year, the Galt school libraries were slated to close down, casualties of a $790,000 budget gap. But thanks to tireless fundraising by kids and adults in the community and a $10 million Race to the Top federal grant, which kicked in this month, the libraries were operational during the year and are now serving the broader community year-round.
“The school library can be a hub for intergenerational learning,” says Karen Schauer, superintendent of the Galt Joint Union Elementary School district.
A vision of strong school libraries has buoyed community fundraising over the past year. It started at the meeting when school officials decided that the six elementary and middle-school libraries would have to close for the 2012-13 school year. A seventh-grader opened her wallet and said she would donate $40 to keep them running. The school board president produced $200 on the spot and challenged others to contribute as well.
This sparked a grassroots fundraising campaign led by parent Leesa Klotz that yielded over $67,000 through efforts including bake sales, rummage sales, holiday fairs, business donations, and other initiatives, says Schauer. When Klotz visited a student council meeting last fall, a sixth-grader surprised her by producing a check for $242. The students had raised the money during a pizza fundraiser, and the hosting pizza parlor kicked in a contribution as well.
Klotz and her co-organizers set the goal of making sure each of the 4,000-plus students in the district would be able to access the library during the week, she says. They were also dedicated to keeping all six school libraries open—or none at all. They met those goals, due to the students’ efforts and the many other contributions.
As Klotz and others focused on the 2012-13 school year, Schauer had a more visionary, long-term goal for the schools and their libraries. She had applied for the Race to the Top federal grant in order to reinvent the libraries and to support a district-wide plan that would create individualized learning programs for each student.
The grant application focused on “blended learning,” defined as “personalized learning plans related to students’ strengths, talents, and learning needs,” Schauer says. It involves “a combination of face-to-face, online, and project-based experiences.” The libraries would be turned into year-round learning centers that would support those goals and teach 21st-century skills. Schauer is developing a “digital citizenry course” for students who check out one of the 40 Chromebooks in each library.
In December 2012, Schauer got word that she had won the grant. But the money would not be available until July. Meanwhile, “We didn’t want a break in service,” says Schauer. “The fundraising helped us sustain current services so that students could check out books at least once a week.”
Schauer is already seeing the results of her vision for year-round school libraries. Currently, three of the schools are hosting summer programs, including support for “migrant education students and children that have extended-year special education services,” says Schauer.
When the kids realized the libraries were open, “Immediately, these students were not only having extra learning time from teachers, but could access the libraries and check materials out,” says Schauer.
Visiting one of the school libraries recently, she encountered families coming in to take materials home. “This is huge,” Schauer says—particularly “in a community that has one public library on the west side of town, and has a freeway dividing it.”