Community, education and political leaders gathered Monday at Arlington Elementary/Middle School to celebrate a partnership that is providing thousands of city students new libraries — an effort that could eventually transform learning spaces at two dozen schools.
Arlington and the Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary are the fourth and fifth schools to get newly renovated libraries built by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.
The organization had pledged $5 million to build new libraries in high-poverty schools by 2015, but on Monday said it would double that contribution and bring improvements to 24 schools.
"Our students now have a sense of a place where they feel welcomed, "said La Shawn Myles, librarian at Arlington, as she looked around at murals that welcome students in different languages, brand-new books lining shelves.
"It's going to foster imagination, creativity and their reading. Already, the energy and excitement of the students is overwhelming,"
Arlington fourth-grader Christal Babb said it will be easier to learn in the new library. "In the old library, it was kind of hard to learn because it had a lot of noise and the lights used to blink," she said.
The two schools also received a new, mobile food pantry, where students and their families could pick up food Monday.
The foundation on Monday also named three new schools that will get new libraries: Windsor Hill Elementary/Middle, Morrell Park Elementary/Middle, and Harford Heights Elementary.
Dozens of leaders were on hand at Arlington to celebrate the library, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who announced a new reading program to improve the number of students reading at proficient levels in third grade.
Citing test results — such as the 35 percent of fourth-graders who scored below proficient on the Maryland School Assessments last year — Rawlings-Blake announced a new initiative called the Mayor's Reading Club.
The club will launch at the library project schools and schools that participate in her current literacy program, Third Grade Reads. The first year of the program will be supported by a $20,000 grant from Weinberg.
Rawlings-Blake said that while the city has made progress in reading scores over the years, the scores indicate a need "to redouble our efforts." She said the percentage of students reading at basic levels "tells us that we're not doing enough for our students."
The Weinberg Foundation is also giving $3 million to the Enoch Pratt Free Library as part of a $107 million renovation project at the central library facility on Cathedral Street, according to a library news release Monday.
Baltimore Sun reporter Anthony Landi contributed to this article.