After two years of being involved with Gastineau Elementary School as a parent, I observe that it is a remarkable institution - successful in spite of its run-down physical condition.
The dingy and sometimes even smelly ambience of its halls and classrooms would cause a lesser staff to falter in its mission, but it has not stopped the staff from turning their school into the bright center of the community it serves. Parents are encouraged to volunteer in all kinds of ways, even in running the school. All students are treated with dignity, compassion and care. Staff are obviously encouraged to look outside of the box for ways to inspire and teach the kids entrusted to them, and most of the staff seems to volunteer several hours a week before or after school to make that happen.
It is obvious that for many Gastineau students, the library is at the heart of their school universe, critical to their success at learning and a place where they feel good about themselves. Unlike some libraries this one is not a dry and quiet room where the ruffling of pages is the loudest noise - the library at Gastineau is alive. It inspires.
Kids love going there and always feel welcome - as do parents - to read, discuss books, attend social events, and take part in schoolwide events. The school librarian has created this special place.
The spelling bee finals, the "Battle of the Books," potlucks for teachers and parents - these are only a few of the successful events hosted at the library. I was at the "Battle of the Books," an event run by the school librarian, and saw parents and teachers and a librarian moved to tears by the efforts and the successes of the kids involved. Some team members were struggling readers, but you could see the pride of accomplishment on their faces and hear it in their voices when they gave a correct answer during the contest. It was unforgettable.
Reading might be the most important academic skill for kids to acquire early. The librarian at Gastineau puts in all kinds of time and effort to get to know each kid, encourage them daily, consult with parents and provide opportunities for reading success. She is not a mere "shusher" and book-shelver, but an inspired professional, a tireless advocate, and, for students, an ally and teacher.
I understand the library program is being cut in half at Gastineau, and I hope that decision is reversed. Cicero, an ancient Roman from whom we could still learn a thing or two, said, "If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need."
Whether it is before school, after school or between classes, a kid can really blossom in a library. But without the help of a full-time librarian, many of the kids at Gastineau will not. Just keeping the lights on and the books in order isn't going to be good enough.
Dan Wayne is a Juneau parent.
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