Across the country, school libraries are feeling the sting of budget cuts. For some, librarian positions are being lost, while others struggle to find funding to purchase new titles, update technology equipment, or teach information literacy and Digital Citizenship. But according to the American Association of School Librarians, school library programs improve learning. In fact, they can have a profound impact on a school’s literacy levels as librarians, who are frequently qualified teachers, provide supplemental resources and support to students and teachers alike.
Luckily for some schools like T.A. Brown Elementary in Austin, TX, there is an organization who is making a difference and helping to establish or improve school libraries. T.A. Brown Elementary is one of 150 schools that have received a Target School Library Makeover.
By the end of 2015, Target is on track to give $1 billion towards education through its programs like the Target School Library Makeover. Target’s public relations representative, Jenna Reck, says, “At Target, we believe that by renovating school libraries we will put more books into the hands of students and help more children learn to read proficiently by the end of third grade: a key milestone on the path to high school graduation.”
This attitude does not go unappreciated by Veronica Sharp, Principal of T.A. Brown Elementary, who says that the new library has improved access to a quality education and promoted independent reading. She thinks the atmosphere has encouraged students to seek out the library on their own. “The environment is inviting, bright, and feels great. There are so many options on where to read – the furniture makes a difference,” she says. Before their library makeover, Sharp says they had outdated books and limited computers. Now with the new library, however, they have received new books, new technology, and a space where staff can use the technology. “Teachers can bring their entire class to the library to give each student an opportunity to learn various skills,” Sharp says.
Each of the remodeled libraries features 2,000 new books, furniture, carpet and shelves, and a complete technology upgrade, including new iPads. Additional technology features include new computers and smart boards. And each student also receives seven new books to take home.
Target and The Heart of America Foundation work with each school to determine if there is a need for multilingual books, and if so, a portion of the 2,000 new books will include multilingual titles. This truly benefits schools like of T.A. Brown Elementary whose Latino demographic is over 90 percent.
As part of the library makeover, Target also implements a Target Meals for Minds school-based food pantry in as many schools as possible. The program is an innovative partnership with Feeding America and local food bank affiliates which provides food to schools to feed students and families in-need. Through the program, students and families take home a variety of staple foods and fresh produce. The food pantry aims to help combat childhood hunger and its impact on learning.
After the library makeover, reading scores at the T. A. Brown Elementary have increased in the 4th and 5th grades. Because of the new library, Sharp says they were able to promote their reading program by involving the community and school PTA.
But it’s not just the students who are benefiting from these school library makeovers. “We’ve also seen more parents come into the space because they also want to check out books,” Sharp says. What stands out for her is the entire parent resource section, which includes books on resume writing and other topics.
This year as an extension to the Target School Library Makeover program, Target is providing $15,000 reading grants to more than 100 schools that previously received a Target School Library Makeover. Each school will use the funds to support programs aimed at increasing reading proficiency.
For Sharp, the biggest satisfaction comes from the students themselves. “I am seeing more children coming into the space to read and to access the technology.”