For the second year in a row, our school has received funding sponsored by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation and generous community donor Mr. David Schmoock to keep our library doors open during the summer months. The aim is to provide access and opportunities for kids within our neighborhood walk zone along with the local Boys and Girls Club housed in our building. This funding allows us to ensure adequate staffing, special performances, educational programs, and supplies necessary to create a host of engaging activities. A wonderful partnership with the Chapel Hill Public Library has also allowed us to use our school library as an extension of the public library's summer reading program, thereby ensuring that students who may not be able to visit the main branch over the summer have an experience similar to their peers. This includes visits from Ms. Krystal, the local youth outreach librarian, who runs a biweekly program. An overview of the summer program can be found here along with our calendar of events here.
For six weeks we open our doors for four hours a day, four days a week, and our library quickly becomes more like a community center and less like a library. At ten o'clock on the dot we watch our neighborhood friends walk up together to partake in everything from story times to gaming to creative art and science activities that incorporate the use of our library Makerspace. This year we even connected with our school garden and not only planted, but also harvested a bounty of fresh vegetables the students took home each visit. Our garden became a hub of activity and served as a community connection that allowed not just our students but their caregivers to get involved. Through many laughs, a lot of sweat and plenty of dirt under our nails, we planted, weeded, watered and enjoyed tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, melons and more all summer long. We were also fortunate to have current students along with their older siblings (former students) partake in the program which allowed us to create community connections and make the summer learning a family affair.
And while there is a lot going on in our country and beyond, we made it our mission to focus on building a better world one project or connection at a time. Our students made dog toys for our local animal shelter, built birdhouses, designed stepping stones and painted signs to beautify our garden landscape, visited with and read to service dogs, and built our own Little Free Library for the larger Northside community. I now smile every time I walk through our garden and see the signs that were made with love and care by our own kids. It makes it all the more beautiful.
We connected every activity to literacy and filled the summer days with read-alouds of every kind. Every program began with a related story. Before making slime, students listened to Dr. Seuss's Bartholomew and the Oobleck. Before building A Little Free Library, we looked at digital images of how libraries provide books to kids all over the world, and read Inside the Book: Readers and Libraries Around the World and Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown. Before the Rags to Riches theater troupe came to perform their Anansi tales, we read various versions of this traditional African tale and even performed our own skit (complete with up-cycled costumes). And before every visit with Libby the therapy dog we found stories that included dogs so Libby could relate to and enjoy the story time too! We even learned about farmer Will Allen through the book, Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table. We discovered the work he has done to build a better community by creating gardens in urban landscapes where food deserts once existed.
As the summer came to a close and our programming ended, I was encouraged to think and reflect on how we can continue to cultivate these relationships beyond the summer. How can we involve more families from our neighborhood to take advantage of all our library has to offer the larger community? More than anything, I recognize how our school library became more than just a library. It became a community hub - a safe place for kids in our community to feel welcome, to engage and to know there is always a place they can seek refuge even when they have moved on from our school. This library is not just our school library, it is a community space for all members of our school family, and for that I think we can all feel fortunate.