Book drive to fill shelves in renovated school libraries

Two well-versed third-graders at Southwest Baltimore Charter School helped launch a book drive that will fill the shelves of their school library and three others in the city.

Key'Aree Simms and Elega Lamason rehearsed with a guest dressed as the Cat in the Hat and then recited a poem, written in a Dr. Seuss-like rhyme, in honor of the 108th birthday of the renowned children's writer. On behalf of their schoolmates, the girls on Friday thanked all those who are "making our library dream come true":

Our library's a place that is greater than great for SBCS kids who are in K through eight!

So thank you for helping us get where we're going,

For helping our wishing, and growing, and knowing.

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and Baltimore Reads have partnered on the drive, which was announced on Read Across America Day in the small library at the charter school. That space is about to undergo a $350,000 expansion that will nearly double its size. Renderings of the library makeover surrounded speakers at the launch, including Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"We went for the wow factor that would make kids want to be in the library," said Ana Castro, an architect for the project. "We wanted it to be the heart of the school."

Kids already want to be in the library, but expanding it and filling its shelves will make it the most popular place in the school, which has more than 450 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, said librarian Becky Thomson.

"They are wonderful patrons, so happy to take out a book," Thomson said. "Many are reading through entire series and recommending books to their friends. With the renovation and the book drive, we will come close to matching the standard books-per-student formula."

School Principal Erika Brockman said the transformation from handcarts stacked with books to an actual library was dream enough. But a 2,500-square-foot, fully equipped library "takes us to a whole new level," she said.

"No other space better represents what SBCS is all about," she said.

The Weinberg Foundation has contributed about $2 million to the Baltimore Library School Project, which is funding library construction efforts at city schools. Its work with Baltimore Reads, a family literacy nonprofit organization, will furnish new books at the four projects at SBCS, Moravia Park, Thomas Johnson and East Baltimore Community schools.

"Not all of us can make a Weinberg donation, but not one of us can't buy one book," said O'Malley, who arrived with a wheelbarrow brimming with books donated by his staff and his children. "With Weinberg making the bricks-and-mortar investment, together we can fill these shelves. Every book donated is a chance to get another child on the path to reading."

Baltimore Reads also envisions parent resource centers in each of the new school libraries to help adults struggling with literacy.

Throughout March, donors can drop new books, appropriate for children ages 3 through 14, in bins placed at more than 80 locations throughout the area, including the Motor Vehicle Administration offices.

O'Malley requested a copy of the children's poem and promised to return in October when the renovation is completed.

"All these partnerships help us make good on our promise to help our children," said Brockman.


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