Grant funds will boost ‘heart of the school’ at Cordley, Pinckney elementaries

photo by: Journal-World File Photos

Pictured in these Journal-World file photos from September 2018 are Cordley Elementary School, at left, and Pinckney Elementary School.

Librarians at Pinckney and Cordley elementary schools in Lawrence have accepted a challenge that could garner up to $9,000 for new books and materials in their respective libraries.

The Lawrence-based Northeast Kansas Library System, or NEKLS, announced Thursday that it has selected the two schools in town, along with six others in the region, to participate in a grant program. Put simply, the goal is to improve collections and boost libraries’ usage.

The process is split into phases. The first assignment is a book report — but not in the traditional sense.

The participating libraries will receive the first $1,000 of the grant after staffers complete a report on the status of the collections, said Anna Foote, youth services and continuing education consultant with NEKLS. It will include the average age of materials, plus an assessment of what’s meeting students’ classroom and recreational needs and what’s not, she said.

“That report will end up advocating for further funding from hopefully their school districts and their administration, but also from NEKLS,” she said.

The deadline for the first phase is Sept. 20, and the $1,000 will help to offset costs of the evaluation, Foote said.

After that, the librarians will submit a plan to NEKLS about what they plan to buy to address the schools’ needs. They will then receive a $5,000 grant from NEKLS, and depending on how much the school district will match dollar for dollar, they can get up to $3,000 on top of that.

Throughout 2020, Foote said, the librarians will then monitor and evaluate how this has “changed library behavior.”

“Are they seeing more kids come through the doors?” she said. “Are they having more interaction with staff and faculty, and doing some co-teaching? … Has improving the library materials improved library service as well?”

‘Heart of the school’

Marisa Hegeman, library media specialist at Cordley, said she’s excited and thankful for the grant opportunity, and collaborating more closely with other faculty as a co-teacher is exactly what she hopes to accomplish.

photo by: Contributed Photo

Marisa Hegeman

“I just really feel like the library is the heart of the school, especially with all the critical thinking skills, the 21st-century skills we want our kids to have,” she said. “I’m excited to do some collection development to make it even more relevant and important.”

Hegeman is in her first year in the library, but she’s taught art in Lawrence schools for the last 15 years, the majority spent at Sunset Hill Elementary, she said.

For the final couple of years, she switched up her approach to focus on TAB, or Teaching for Artistic Behavior. Students would propose their own projects to her, then gather supplies from various stations. It ended up involving a lot of research, she said.

At the same time, Hegeman knew she wanted to get her master’s in education, but she didn’t want to focus on art education or go into administration. Coincidentally, that’s when makerspaces started rolling into Lawrence schools’ libraries, she said.

“With the combination of how I was teaching art in my room and then makerspaces being added, I thought, ‘Oh, I think this is the spot for me to focus on creativity and collaboration and connection,'” she said. “And I thought I could take it to the next level.”

She’ll graduate with her master’s degree in library sciences in May.

“It was kind of magical when it all came together in that way,” Hegeman said. “… I really feel like I have found my calling and my home in the library because I can bring the arts in, and there’s so much creativity and thinking, and it’s been lots of fun.”

Plans for the grants

With the grant, Hegeman said one goal is to create a transitional section for kids who aren’t quite ready for chapter books and fiction, but don’t want to check out a book from the “everybody” section. She also wants to build up the nonfiction and diverse books, she said.

Foote said that all the grant applications cited budget limits that prevent them from meeting the needs of their students. Some were focused on supplementing materials that match up with the schools’ curricula; others thought they had those needs covered and instead wanted more recreational reading for kids.

The Journal-World’s attempts to reach Pinckney’s librarian on Friday were unsuccessful; however, Foote shared some of what was in both schools’ grant applications.

Both mentioned wanting to focus on diverse collections and ensuring they had books for all students in their communities, Foote said. They also mentioned that they want to add more graphic novels, which she said continue to grow in popularity in both fiction and nonfiction varieties.

“They’re great for visual learners and reluctant readers, who may find a wall of text intimidating,” Foote said in an email response to follow-up questions.

Hegeman agreed and noted additional benefits for English language learners, who constitute 25 percent of Cordley’s students, according to the school’s Kansas Report Card.

“I think they’re just a great introduction and great gateway to reading, and really help with comprehension,” she said. “And as a former art teacher, I think they’re gorgeous and a work of art and literature, so it’s a win-win for me.”

NEKLS goals

Foote said NEKLS is branching into working more with schools and helping them improve services.

“We just think that by strengthening school libraries and school librarians, it will improve the overall performance of the school. We know that from research,” Foote said. “We also believe that it creates a better school community, and good school communities make for good general communities, which libraries are very interested in supporting.”

The agency supports 118 member libraries, including 51 schools and school districts in 14 counties, according to its news release. It’s one of the state’s seven cooperating regional library systems.

The other schools NEKLS selected to participate in the program are Apache Innovative School and Westridge Middle School in the Shawnee Mission district; Atchison middle and high schools, which applied together and will receive one grant; Midland Trail Elementary in the Turner district; and Santa Fe Trail High School in Carbondale.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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