June 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Fifth Grader’s Mission To Save His School’s Librarian

Jakari Singleton tries to rally support for his school librarian.

When Jakari Singleton heard his school might lose its librarian, he went right to the source to confirm the news.

“He said, ‘Is this true?’” says Mindy Burns, who has been the teacher-librarian at Fryelands Elementary School in Monroe, WA, since it opened 13 years ago.

Jakari with his elementary school librarian Mindy Burns.

Certified teacher-librarians will no longer oversee operations in the district, other than at Monroe High School. According to the district website, current librarians “may elect to move into a classroom teacher position within our district or apply for the new Digital Learning Teacher position.” The libraries will be staffed by a “full-time Library Specialist,” the site says.

When Burns informed Jakari that, yes, the district was in fact considering eliminating her position and others, the 11-year-old told her, “I’m going to save your job.”’

Jakari soon had a bunch of boys sitting with him in the corner planning, Burns says.

“The next thing you know, they’re outside with signs,” she says. “It’s heartwarming.”

It started with Jakari and his little brother putting up the signs outside of school—taping them to poles and sticking them into the ground.

Since finding out about the district’s intention in early May, Jakari could frequently be found outside school holding his “Save the Librarians” sign. In the morning before classes, he is usually alone, he says, but others often join him with their own signs in the afternoon.

Taking action, and the way in which he did, was all his idea, says Jakari’s mom Jill Singleton, who works as a counselor at the school. She was surprised that he reacted so strongly to the possibility of the loss of the school librarian, but encouraged him in his efforts to try to make a difference.

“His dad and I are just really proud of him, to take this leadership on,” Singleton says. “He sees something that doesn’t make sense to him, and in his view, isn’t right, and he Is doing something.”

Jakari had been to rallies with his mom over education funding before, and he was also inspired by protests, rallies, and marches he has seen on the news.

“I wanted to do something, because I see other people protesting across the state and the world,” he says.

Jakari didn’t stop at signs. He wrote a letter to the district’s board of education and read it to them at a meeting. He spoke to the teacher’s union. He wrote to a Washington congresswoman, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers wrote back.

He also sent a letter to the White House.

“He really wants a letter back from President Trump,” says Singleton, who has told Jakari that the president is very busy and he should focus on all of the people who are really proud of him.

Burns is one of those people. As the school’s librarian, Burns sees each of the approximately 500 kids in the school once a week and develops a personal relationship with them along the way.

“We have a special chance to make a real connection with these kids and really turn them on to reading,” Burns says of elementary school librarians.

Jakari with letter from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Over the years, she watches students develop as readers and children, learns their interests, and tries to find a book that will be spark a lifetime of reading. For Jakari, it took a while. Though he is a good reader, Burns says, he just never found reading material that interested him. This year, however, Burns remembered a report on Benjamin Banneker that Jakari had done in third grade.

“I have had kids come to me and ask for a book on Benjamin Banneker because Jakari told them he was interesting person,” she says. “So I started thinking what might pull him in. I had been pulling historical fiction for a teacher and thought of [Christopher Paul] Curtis.”

It was the perfect pairing of author and reader.

“He just ate it up,” she says. “He reads now all the time.”

When talking about what might happen to her position, Jakari’s quest to save her job, and the classmates who have joined him—one boy put up a YouTube video in support of her, she says—Burns’ voice cracks.

“I’m happy to know I made an impression,” she says. “And they love to read.…That, in itself, is valuable.”

Jakari will take his new-found love of reading to middle school next year, but he is fighting for the kids coming into Fryelands after he leaves.

“My goal is to save librarians for kindergartners who haven’t gotten the experience like me,” says Jakari. “From kindergarten to fifth grade, Mrs. Burns taught me a lot.”

Asked for advice he might give to a kid who sees a situation that they think is wrong, but feel they are too young to do anything about it, Jakari says, “Do what you want to do. You can make your own history.”

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Kara Yorio About Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Oh, my heart. This young man gives me so much hope. What a beautiful story! May Jakari keep inspiring others to join this movement. Until we see librarian positions reinstated, literacy ratings will remain low.

  2. C. Britt says:

    Districts across this country are solving budget problems by sacrificing our students’ education. If we don’t help students improve their literacy skills, we are failing them. We can’t do that without librarians that obviously are making a difference with this generation. I am proud of Jakari and others around this nation that are taking a stand and fighting for what is right. Good luck to them all. Ms. Burns, you have done a great job!

  3. Donna Russell says:

    Did he get a letter from the president? That is what it looks like in the picture.

  4. Lynn Kramer says:

    I can’t wait for this generation to grow up and vote.

  5. Sweet boy– I hope he succeeds!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Good luck to this young man and to Ms. Burns, but I feel like I don’t know the difference between or maybe in this context the definitions of librarian, teacher-librarian, and full-time Library Specialist. Any explanation welcome, thanks.

    • anonymous says:

      Librarian and teacher librarian is often the same in schools. This person usually has a master’s degree in library science or an endorsement on their teaching license. A library specialist is a classified person who, may have some college experience but it is not required were I live, has an interest maybe in library and can do the basics. Library specialists would not be allowed to teach students only to assist check out etc. of materials. They are wonderful people but it is best to have a certificated teacher and a classified person to get the most out of library program.

  7. cinda chima says:

    Never underestimate the power of a teen on a mission. There are no more passionate people on this earth.
    They are probably eliminating the librarians so they can hire a law enforcement officer.

  8. Thank you SLJ for covering the issue.
    Tonight I shared a well written and strong letter from ALA and AASL presidents to this effect and hope that constructive engagement might still persuade the board and administration to strengthen the instructional role of full-time, certified teacher librarians.

    Tonight I also heard the Monroe School Board directors plan to put full para-professionals in libraries, with a gain of PE PCP as one benefit of the move. While citing a desire to move to the “Future Ready Librarians” framework, in fact they are cutting certified teacher-librarian staffing to part-time/multi-school assignments. A stronger commitment to student learning and “Future Ready Schools” would be to keep certificated teacher-librarians in every school and expand the scope of their responsibilities to incorporate the information technology literacy and collaborative teaching with classroom teachers.

    Less staffing is not more, no matter what the job description.
    Students deserve full-time, future-ready librarians in every school library and information technology program.

  9. Alexandra Cornejo says:

    Please keep us updated!

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