Tucked in a county island neighborhood in the Mesa Unified School District, Stevenson Elementary School’s classrooms and playgrounds bustle with student activity.
During recess this week, fifth-graders took advantage of newly painted tetherball courts. In a classroom, sixth-graders assessed each other’s writing. During lunch, fourth-graders were all abuzz about the school’s newly upgraded library.
In fact, the library — which received 2,000 new books, as well as computers, tablets, new paint, seating and carpet from Target and the Heart of America Foundation — was the center of many conversations. Stevenson is a Title I campus with 86 percent of the students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch because of low family income. That was one of the factors to it receiving the Target grant.
It’s also a school with improving academics, having just missed an “A” grade from the state by four points this year, said new principal Kathy Ray.
With the upgrades in the library, including hundreds of new “informational” texts such as biographies and other non-fiction titles, Ray expects the school to continue an upward trend.
Stevenson was built in 1975, and it was likely the library hadn’t had a makeover since then, Ray said. Add to that a cut in the library’s book budget, and there were lots of items “dated” in the library, said librarian Debbie Freeborn.
So when more than 200 volunteers from local Target stores rolled in last week to repaint the library and other areas of the campus, it was most welcomed.
“We didn’t have a budget and weren’t able to purchase any new books. We lose some every year with the kids and damage. This is such a blessing,” she said.
Combined with the books the library previously had, the library now has about 18,000 titles to choose from, a fairly large collection, Freeborn said, for an elementary school.
Steve Nosbisch, store team leader for the Queen Creek Super Target, led the volunteer effort. He’s been involved in every Target library upgrade in the state except one since 2007, he said. Across the country 150 libraries have benefited from the Target and Heart of America Foundation grant.
“It brings literacy to our whole community. It’s a very positive experience with the new books and the excitement,” Ray said.
Freeborn was able to select most of the 2,000 books given to the school to help teachers as they address the Common Core Standards, which puts an emphasis on informational texts and research.
“It’s going to be a huge help. They can come in at lunch, or before or after school if they let me know,” Freeborn said. “A lot of the kids don’t have home computers so I give them the extra time.”
Even before the Target grant, the school put reading at the forefront of education, Ray said. Though the school did not receive the funding for the “Reading First” program, it adopted the model and used other funds to create a reading lab and hire a reading coach.
The pilot teacher-training program puts teachers through four full evaluations each year, rather than the required two with hopes that increased teacher development will improve student outcome.
But ask any of the students about what’s making a difference this week, and they’ll point to their new library.
“The thing I like about the library is one, you have more things to do. It’s things you can do to be creative and have fun. They got us tablets and new computers that work. We have more creations on the wall. We have posters and a resource room,” said fourth-grader Allanya Jones, 9.
“There’s a lot more books and the coloring is different. It’s not colors I would imagine in a library,” Ethan Larsen, 10, another fourth-grader, said of the bright purple and blue paint on the walls.
Freeborn said students started checking out books again this week, following the makeover.
“It’s still kind of unbelievable to them,” she said. “It’s still overwhelming.”
The day of the library’s unveiling, Target and the Heart of America Foundation also provided a backpack filled with seven new books to each of the school’s 760 students, and a turkey and other food to every family.
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