School Library Opening & Staffing
WePAC’s school library opening initiative, launched in September 2009 at two schools, has grown over time due to the support of many. In the last academic year our library programs touched more than 4,000 students across 13 schools. We believe that open books open minds!
- Add B. Anderson School
- Rudolph Blankenburg School
- Lewis Cassidy School
- Cook-Wissahickon School
- Samuel Gompers School
- Andrew Hamilton School
- Edward Heston School
- Samuel B. Huey School
- Henry Lea School
- Morton McMichael School
- William Longstreth School
- Samuel Powel School
- James Rhoads School
Students in schools served by WePAC have much in common:
Most live in poverty
Median family income is below $20,000. Approximately 95% of the children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
Neighborhood educational achievement is low
More than one-third of adults lack a high school diploma and nearly one-quarter cannot read or write at an elementary school level.
Performance in school is poor
An astounding 80% of students score below grade level in reading or math. The great majority are below grade level in both. And with the pressures of raising PSSA scores weighing on teachers and students alike, spontaneity and creative exploration have been siphoned from classrooms.
As recently as 25 years ago, every public school in Philadelphia had a professional librarian working in the school library. Until schools find a way to add librarians, volunteers can fill part of the void left by their loss.
At William Longstreth School, one library opened by WePAC, the facility had been closed to students for more than ten years. At the Morton McMichael School, the library had been closed for an entire generation!
WePAC renovates and opens closed elementary school libraries, collects and donates books to the libraries, and provides trained volunteers to staff and run the libraries. We love to bring authors, illustrators, elected officials, and celebrities into our libraries to share their books and stories with children. Let us know if you have any connections!
WePAC volunteers see library classes on a regular schedule, read stories to the students, help the children select and check out books, and work with the school to align library activities with the curriculum.
WePAC library volunteers donate more than 10,000 hours of direct service each school year. School administrators have reported an increase in excitement about reading and books, improved academic performance, and enthusiastic responses from teachers about having a school library. One principal reported her belief that her school was raised out of empowerment status because of these literacy-based activities.
While each of Pennsylvania’s state prisons is required to have a librarian with a Master’s degree, a collection of 5,000 books, subscriptions to 20 periodicals, and seating space for 20, no such requirements exist for our schools.
While the relationship between prisons and school libraries may not be readily apparent, there is a link. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections estimates that one-half of all persons admitted to the state prison system read below the sixth grade level, and that 40% lack a high school diploma. Even with recent improvements, approximately 40% of Philadelphia public school students will drop out of school without graduating.
The economic and social impacts of failing to graduate from high school are well-known. Over the past few years, dozens of school library impact studies have demonstrated the link between school library access and student achievement. These impact studies show that student learning improves with increased library hours, group visits by classes, larger collections, and greater student usage.
A study of Pennsylvania school libraries found that standardized test scores improve 10 to 15 points when school library predictors are maximized. Among the library predictors is the presence of a librarian on the school’s staff. Unfortunately, today, very few elementary schools have a trained librarian staffing their library, if a library exists at all. This trend does not appear to be reversing itself in the near future.
School library access is an important way to enrich the school experience and to engage young students in the excitement and joy of reading. Making reading fun, making books and information easily accessible, and exposing children to great stories and authors helps young students engage and invest in learning. In the early elementary school years, children are learning to read; later, they are reading to learn. If early reading becomes a part of a child’s life, keeping up in school becomes less challenging. With schools no longer being able to support a librarian on staff, schools and principals are looking for creative ways to provide library access and activities to their students. That’s where WePAC has stepped in with its library programming.