Rise, fall of middle school library
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- Subject: Rise, fall of middle school library
- From: Peter Farruggio <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Fri, 12 Mar 2004 07:49:14 -0800
- Cc: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rise, fall of middle school library
New, state-of-the-art facility serving impoverished students set to close
Simone Sebastian, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, March 12, 2004
©2004 San Francisco Chronicle
When former schoolteacher Grace Murphy Jenkins stepped into her new
position last year heading up the brand-new library at Lovonya DeJean
Middle School in Richmond, she couldn't contain her amazement.
The library had bright lights and plenty of windows. It had shelf after
shelf of new books with no pen marks or torn pages. An internal phone
network allowed her to call any classroom in the school to find out which
books students needed for research projects. There were even enough
computers for an entire class of students to be online at once.
But the amazement Jenkins felt then could not compare to her shock when she
learned that the West Contra Costa Unified School District's board had
voted Monday night to board up the library to help save $16.5 million next
"I can't tell you how much work went into opening this up. We want a chance
to see the good that this library can do," Jenkins said. "Many of our
children don't have access to the public library. They need to know
literature can be an enjoyable activity, that there's a joy to learning.
This library is the best way to show them that."
The library's future was thrown into doubt last week, when voters turned
down a parcel tax that would have generated $7.5 million a year for the
school district. What followed was unprecedented in California, as the
school board voted to abolish the sports program, close all the district's
libraries, do away with elementary school music classes and lay off
It was just six years ago that voters decided to pay for DeJean Middle
School and its library, as they approved a bond that still costs property
owners $17 for every $100,000 in assessed value. The district decided to
build near downtown Richmond in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Contra
Costa County, where a state-of-the-art library could help educators improve
Seven months after the library's opening, Jenkins said she doesn't need
test results to prove how much children have been helped.
"Students don't have to be forced to come to this library. Look around --
none of them are rushing to get out of here," Jenkins said from her post
behind the checkout desk as the clock approached the final bell.
Students in Acacia Allen's sixth-grade class approached with their books,
some to check out, many to renew.
They've been talking about the library's closing in class all week,
brainstorming ways to keep it open. One student suggested they ask their
parents to volunteer their time to work in the library.
"They have so many questions. They're scared they won't be able to get
books," Allen said. Her students were listening to Jenkins read "Sukey and
the Mermaid," a fairytale about an overworked young girl who discovers an
"It's so important for these kids," Allen said. "For a lot of them, it's
their only access to books. We already have so many disadvantages out here.
It's too nice a library for it not to be used."
D'marce Hutcherson, 11, said he was excited about the new library when he
started attending DeJean Middle School last year. The bookshelves are much
bigger, he said, so he doesn't have to crouch down to search through the
books the way he did at his old school.
"If the library closes, we're not going to have books to read," D'marce
said. "We won't be able to do the research we need to do. We won't be able
to have book fairs like we did."
The sixth-grader said he's been reading more since his class started coming
to the school library every week. Right now, he's reading "Places I Never
Meant to Be," a collection of short stories edited by Judy Blume. He made
sure Jenkins renewed it yesterday, because he has a few more pages to read.
But that didn't keep him from checking out another book, a biography about
baseball legend Babe Ruth.
D'marce is into sports, and those cuts are concerning him, too. He hopes to
play basketball in college, but he believes a well-rounded middle school
education is necessary to get him there.
"You need sports to get a scholarship and you need books to get into
college," he said.
School Vice Principal Rachel Bartlett-Preston couldn't agree more. She
calls the library "the hub of the school" and its closing "an atrocity."
She said she knows the school district is in a financial bind, and she
expected to lose school counselors. But when she got word that the doors to
her brand-new library would be closed, she said, "it took me by surprise."
"This isn't cost-effective," Bartlett-Preston said, explaining that the
library "is in the process of being built."
The barely broken-in tables, encyclopedias and chairs could go unused. The
bookshelves are hardly half-full, and new books are still on the way.
Bartlett-Preston feels it's a school's responsibility to teach children how
to navigate through a world of information. That is particularly important
in a school where many children don't have a computer at home or a way to
get to the public library, she said.
"Accessing information is what our lives are about," Bartlett-Preston said.
"Children need to be taught how to do that, and that's what we're here to
do. You can't cut someone off at the knees. But that's exactly what is
happening to this group of students."
E-mail Simone Sebastian at email@example.com.
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