April 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Detroit School Library Named After Ellen DeGeneres


Ellen DeGeneres is a talk show host, comedian, actress, and now the namesake of a school library. The Detroit Achievement Academy in Michigan announced that it is naming its library in DeGeneres’s honor because of her philanthropic work and advocacy. Only in its first year of existence, the charter school and its 28-year-old cofounder, Kyle Smitley, were featured as part of the “Inspirational Story” segment on The Ellen Show. On the program, $25,000 was donated to the institution by Shutterfly, and DeGeneres herself matched that gift with another $25,000.

ELLEN_Thankyoufrom-DetroitWhen the school opened September 2013, it had a total of 50 children’s books and no official library. Since being featured on the program, it has received thousands of books. Smitley shared that naming it after Ellen was the students’ idea. “They are very aware of the fact that she and her ‘friends’ are sending us lovely gifts. Appreciation for Ellen really runs deep among our staff and students, and we all thought this was a great way to honor her kindness,” she tells School Library Journal. The dedication of the library was made during the February 5 broadcast of The Ellen Show (shown below).

So far during the library’s short existence, students have come to enjoy favorites such as Bill Martin Jr.’s Chicka Chicka Boom (S & S, 1989), David Shannon’s No, David! (Scholastic, 1998), the “Junie B. Jones” (Random) and “Pete the Cat” (HarperCollins) series, and Mo Willems’s books. Teachers also enjoy using the library for reading aloud to their students.

The funds were also used to spruce up the library and make it a lovely space for the kids. Colorfully painted walls, shelved books, and bean bags greet its visitors (pictured above). The calm and peaceful locale is currently used as a meeting space, reading alcove, and gathering place for classes.

The Academy, with currently 40 students in kindergarten and first grade, teaches through creative problem solving and project-based learning, a model known as expeditionary learning. Students are given three meals and a snack a day, all from locally grown food sources. The school was cofounded by Smitley a lawyer and founder of barley & birch, a USA-made, 100 percent-certified organic clothing line for children—a career that she gave up to give something back.


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Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.

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