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News Maryland Baltimore County Parkville

School is out, but some school libraries are open in Baltimore County

It seems an odd time for books to be flying off a school's library's shelves, but at Halstead Academy, Ethan Pranke and Noah Neverdon can't resist.

Asked about popular children's book author Dan Gutman, the two rising fifth-graders retrieved several entries from the author's "My Weird School Daze" series, spread them on a table and offered colorful synopses of such works as "Mrs. Dole Is Out of Control" and "Officer Spence Makes No Sense."

The two aren't in summer school or a school-based camp, but they are among many Baltimore County who take advantage of schools that keep their libraries open during the summer break to encourage youngsters to keep reading.

Halstead Academy in Parkville is among 13 public schools in Baltimore County that open libraries and media centers during the summer. It's a practice that's out of the ordinary among school systems in the Baltimore area, but it's a service Baltimore County has offered for 10 years. Many libraries are open in areas where youngsters don't have easy access to public libraries.

While some savor time away from school during the summer, many Halstead Academy students are reading the books they relish during the school year.

"It's more than just playing games, playing outside, riding your bike. You get more education," said Ethan, 10. "We came to get more education for fifth grade."

"There are less people here [compared to during the school year] so we can get the books we want," said Noah, 10. "I didn't want to just sit at home. My mom said, 'This year, you're not going to be sitting in the house, playing games all day. You're going to read so you won't forget about school.' "

About a dozen students visit the Halstead Academy library daily, and sometimes parents visit and bring their school-age children as well as toddlers.

"Most of the kids aren't in our summer school program, so they come to school at noon [when the library opens], and when they buzz to get in they're saying, 'We're here for the library! We're here for the library!' " said Jennifer Mullenax, Halstead Academy principal.

In addition to Halstead, other Baltimore County public school libraries open during the summer include Colgate Elementary School, Hawthorne Elementary School and Padonia International Elementary School. Days and hours vary at each location, and some are open as late as mid-August.

Fran Glick, the school system's supervisor of instructional technology and library media, said each participating school runs its library autonomously, making sure it can be open during hours that do not interfere with cleaning and other efforts to prepare for the coming school year.

The cost to operate the libraries over the summer varies by location based on the days and hours available. Schools pay a media specialist through the school system budget, though some tap federal Title I money.

Others take advantage of business partnerships. Glen Burnie-based A&G properties, which owns a 700-unit apartment and townhouse community near Halstead Academy, donated a family pack of four tickets to an Orioles game to be used as a prize in support of the program.

Kathie Dzbinski, director of training and leasing at A&G, said, "We put a high value on education and supporting the community. And it's helping the kids."

"It's giving them access to books, books that they want to read, books they're excited about reading," said Diane Fontinell, Halstead Academy media specialist.

Fontinell said the Baltimore County Public Library partners with the school libraries, donating books for students to keep as prizes at the end of the program.

"Our programs compliment each other, " Fontinell said. "I know our students. I know what they like to read. I know what books are appropriate for them, so I can help them find books in the library that are just right for them. And if I don't have it, I know that the public library will."

Marisa Conner, coordinator of the youth services department for the Baltimore County Public Library, noted that county schools help promote the library system's summer reading program by distributing registration materials in May. She said the public library has 48,000 youths registered for summer reading.

Kim McLeod, a Halstead Academy parent service coordinator whose daughter, Kamauri Collins, attends the school, said she encourages parents to visit the library with their children.

"The benefits come from just being able to go into the school and just get books," said McLeod, "because it does make a difference when the children are just idle during the summertime, when they don't get to keep up on their reading. They do lose something."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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