Learning by the Book

Students learn grant writing, finance, tech skills on quest to make books accessible

By Deb Hadachek Telescope editor

It all started with a question. If Pike Valley High School was serious about improving English and reading test scores, why didn’t it have a library?

That question set in motion a series of events for a handful of students and counselor Lynda Scrivner that will re-open the door to the school library next fall. Their work will be revealed at an open house this Sunday, May 21, from 2-4 p.m.

The project, which includes new books, furnishings, lighting, an automated check-out system and a coffee bar to lure non-readers, had a happier ending than students imagined.

“I never thought it would be like this,” says student Cheneal Benne. “I thought maybe we would simply reorganize the books.”

Instead, students raised $23,000 in donations to unlock the doors of a library that had been little more than a storage room in recent years.

Students formed the “Bring Back the Library” committee early in the school year. A brochure they developed to promote the project points out that the increase in technology resources beginning in 2008 impacted the function of the library.

“With the belief that research and reading was moving to the internet, the library lost its luster and was doomed to almost extinction,” says the brochure. “The book inventory went downhill, the services of a librarian were halted due to budget cuts, the room became almost a storage space and the doors became locked.”

The students note that ACT scores in reading and language arts have fallen below state average scores the last five years, and the book inventory was out-of-date.

Students attended a grant writing workshop and got their first $2,000 donation from the Republic County Community Foundation. They then sent an application directly to the Dane Hansen Foundation, which supplied the rest of the $13,500, which students first estimated for the project.

Then other donations started to appear. An anonymous donor offered to match donations up to $5,000 through the ProjectWeKan network operated by the Kansas Sampler Foundation. The Bring Back the Library committee achieved the full match just as the deadline expired.

Learn more about Project Wekan’s crowdfunding platform for rural community projects here www.projectwekan.com.

“The last day we hadn’t met our goal, and then the next morning it was there,” says Tory Isaacson.

The extra funds will enable installation of better lighting and the automated checkout system.

Learning experience

Scrivner said it has been interesting to watch each student take on leadership roles in different areas and learn to compromise. Kinzie Langston and Brooke Luedke worked on grant writing. Isaacson became the treasurer. Jentry McGregor became the voice of the group in explaining the project to the community. Hannah Hanneman found a flair for interior decorating. Zach Wohlbrandt spearheaded technical needs. Benne made sure ideas became reality.

“These kids were up here on their own time working during Christmas, Easter, spring break,” Scrivner says.

The Central Kansas Library System helped weed books, and another company has offered to send new books, Scrivner says. Langston and Benne have been hired to catalogue books during the summer, and Hanneman will organize the coffee bar. Student organizations will man the concession area before school, during seminar and after school as a fundraiser. Students like Isaacson will help keep the library open for students during the day while she takes an independent study course.

The district still hopes community volunteers will step forward to keep the doors open more for students during the day.

“We didn’t have a library or a resource that most schools offer, unless we went to the community libraries,” Hanneman says.

“And it is hard for students to get to those libraries when they’re open, because of activities,” adds Benne.

Bring Back the Library committee members say it is their own love of reading that motivated them to pursue the project.

“And the fact that the two lowest ACT scores– not just for us, but a lot of schools–are English and reading,” McGregor says.

The atmosphere in the new library has already piqued the interest of other students, they say. “”It is so much more than I expected,” Isaacson says.