When East Grand Rapids Public Schools eliminated its elementary media center paraprofessionals three years ago due to budget cuts, it was clear to parents Trish Reid and Carole McDonald that a new way was needed to provide students with library services.
Reid and McDonald were the perfect people to step forward, said Jeanne Glowicki, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. Reid is a former Kent District Library EGR branch youth librarian, and McDonald is the district’s technology “troubleshooter,” or hardware specialist.
They’ve combined their expertise to revamp school libraries into volunteer-run, technology-friendly Learning Commons, while incorporating KDL-type systems to streamline and make processes as efficient as possible.
“(When the positions were cut) I quickly saw a gap and I was like, ‘Well, clearly I have skills here where I can help,’ ” said Reid, an East Grand Rapids High School graduate who has a master’s degree in library science. “The district has given a lot to me and a lot to my kids and this was a place where I could easily use my skill set to benefit a lot of children.”
|How Two Volunteers Transformed EGR School Libraries
McDonald, who has two of five children still in the district, also wanted to pitch in with technology and organizational skills. Checking out, scanning, shelving and cataloging of materials all needed to happen without staffing.
“This is about getting books in the hand of the kids,” Reid said. “That’s the bottom line: to get kids books, books they like and books they are excited about.”
Building a Foundation
The twosome built a team of 20 to 30 volunteers at each of the district’s three elementary schools who devote 400 hours a month to ensure students are getting books they need and developing a love for reading.
Reid and McDonald curate the huge collection of 10,500 books at each school, cataloging new books, making sure each school has a consistent collection, ordering materials and training volunteers and staff members.
They’ve also started a KDL-style catalog system where students can look up a book and see which school it’s shelved at. Reid regularly contacts KDL for current popular titles and information to aid in ordering.
Reid and McDonald also tap into knowledge of teachers, who fill out Google spreadsheets every month about what they’re teaching. That helps the pair make sure books that complement classroom teaching are on the shelves.
“When the kids have heard a book in class that they really like, they can come to the Learning Commons and find 10 books that are a lot like that book,” Reid said. “We are really trying to make the collection as relevant as possible to connect with the books the teachers have in the classroom and make sure it’s connecting with the curriculum.”
Glowicki said Reid and McDonald’s work and ideas have opened the door to many possibilities.
“They come with the parent background, the employee background, but overall it goes with knowing the importance of reading for students. When you have that kind of buy-in, it just makes our work fun. You don’t get working relationships like this all the time. I’m extremely fortunate to have both of them.”
The Transformation Continues
With the foundation in place, the district is ready for the next step: rebuilding the school library spaces to meet the needs of the district for years to come, Glowicki said.
The district’s bond issue, passed last May, will fund renovation of the spaces into learning hubs outfitted for the latest technology, with flexible space to allow students to work in groups interactively and from their own devices. Breton Downs, Wealthy and Lakeside elementary schools will each receive between $453,000 and $539,000 in work and upgrades including new furniture and enhanced audio-visual technology and connectivity. Students will use self-checkout stations like at KDL branches.
Volunteers will still be needed, but not as much. The Learning Commons will largely become student-operated.
“These spaces can be set up where the students can take even more ownership of it,” Reid said.
For Reid and McDonald, this summer will be spent preparing to reopen in early fall. While the libraries are closed for renovations through late September, teachers and librarians at the KDL East Grand Rapids branch will work together to ensure students and schools have the resources they need.
McDonald said their efforts will become even more reader-focused with all the infrastructure finally in place, public library-style, with connections to learning all around students.
“It’s the levelest playing field in the world: a public library,” she said. “Everyone has access, no one is turned away. It’s so important at the elementary level.
“If you can read, you can do anything.”