Students spread the word on library cards

The Baltimore Sun

Autumn Griffiths and Amber O'Connor stared transfixed at the video camera and delivered a barely audible cheer.

Throughout two practice runs, Hilltop Elementary School's media specialist tugged on her earlobe, signaling that she needed the two third-graders to speak louder.

Finally, Jane Anders reassured them that no one would know if they made a mistake. Then she peered into the camera's viewfinder.

"You look absolutely dynamite," Anders said.

Though still nervous, the girls recited "Go read! Go read! Get your TLC at the library!" loud enough for the recording. Anders clapped loudly and congratulated them.

For the past seven years, Anders has gotten Hilltop students to cheer and rap about the benefits of getting a library card. She taped dozens of students Tuesday and Wednesday to celebrate National Library Week.

This week, students can watch their videos during their media center classes. Anders will use the time to promote the summer reading program at area libraries.

Through Hilltop's "TLC" - the Library Card - program, students also receive bookmarks and the chance for a party for getting a library card from a public library.

"You want kids to be lifelong readers," Anders said.

Not every student uses the library to read. Fifth-grader Jamia West reads only when she's bored and visits public libraries mostly to borrow videos and use the computer.

"It just gets a lot of things off my mind," Jamia said. "If I'm mad, I'll just get on the computer."

That doesn't bother Anders. Kids need to read to use the computer, she said.

Anders tracks the school's progress in getting library cards on a yellow construction-paper chart posted in the school library. Each classroom roll is listed on a white card. She highlights kids' names in green when they show her their library card.

Even with the video program, Anders is not as successful as she would like to be: Only 95 of the approximately 500 students at the school have a library card. Students need parents to drive them to the library, and not every parent has time, Anders said.

If an entire class gets library cards, Anders promises a "sleep-in" at the school's library. She will shut off all the lights in the library and read stories by flashlight inside a large tent. Then the students will get to enjoy Popsicles.

Three Hilltop classes qualified for the sleep-in when she started the program. Since then, no class has, although Anders thinks a few are close this year.

Anders stumbled onto the video method when she introduced students to video cameras about 20 years ago. Children are happy to read and write, if they know they can see themselves on video, Anders said.

Then again, the actual performance can be daunting. On Tuesday, most students shyly mumbled their lines until Anders coaxed some confidence out of them.

Fifth-grader Brandon Cummings had to persuade his classmate Jimmy McAdams to participate. It took a few tries before the pair could rap loudly enough. At the end, however, they folded their arms across their chests for the big finish.

"Bam!" they shouted at the camera.

They also served as helpers, proofreading and checking younger students' work before their performances. Brandon said it takes him a week to finish a book. He loves mysteries, such as the one he just read, The Mystery of the Hairy Man.

Jimmy, a budding inventor, likes to look through engineering books. He takes a navy blue notebook with him to draw his ideas for prototypes.

Soo Jin Lee, another fifth-grader, said she goes to the public library so much that her mother joked that she had finished every book there. Soo's constant reading prompted her mother to place some restrictions on her.

"She made a rule, 'No reading while you're eating.'" Soo said.

Reading enables her to forget sadness in the world, she said.

"It's really amazing what a book can do," Soo said. "It's a little world I [can make] up on my own."

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