Testing the feasibility of what seems a ‘natural partnership’

As Children’s Librarian Sharon Moskowitz tells it, the idea behind a new, year-long pilot collaboration between the St. George School and the Jackson Memorial Library (JML) began three years ago with some simple trips up the hill path between the library and the school.
“It started with a modest idea where I made a weekly visit with a stack of books to one of the third grade classes at the school,” Moskowitz explains. “The following year the third graders started coming here for their library visit, just to exchange books. Then the fourth grade teacher approached me and said they’d like to do the same thing. So they were making weekly visits just to exchange books.”

And then the St. George School became its own Municipal School Unit and Mike Felton, the school’s new superintendent, came to Moskowitz with a question. “He approached me and said, doesn’t it make sense that we collaborate?” Moskowitz says. “And I said, yes, it’s a natural partnership. So after having some discussion about it [which involved the library’s board of trustees and other school officials], we decided let’s give it a shot.”

Sharon Moskowitz

Currently, Moskowitz notes, the kindergarten through fifth grade classes come down to the JML each week—the kindergarten through second grade classes come for their “library block” time, and the third through fifth graders come to exchange books. “The library block for the younger kids is 45 minutes, so allowing for travel time down and back up the hill, they are actually here 30 to 35 minutes. There are also days I will go up to their classrooms. We read a couple of books and do an activity—I love to connect an activity with the story, whether a science activity or something like that. It makes it tangible for the students.”

Moskowitz reflects on what she sees as the positive effect on the kids of actually leaving the school and coming to the library. “For one thing, by coming to the library the kids are learning how to enter a public building where there are other users, that there’s a certain element of appropriate behavior required, that this place is not just for kids. And if they don’t remember to bring their books back they can’t get a book that week, so they are also learning responsibility.”

Many of the students, too, Moskowitz notes, “are first-generation library users,” which is not unusual in a rural community and in an on-line culture. That means much of her focus is on showing these novice library users just what a library is all about. “We take a tour of the library so they know what the library can offer them. I try to let them know there are resources here for information as well as for entertainment and that we have computers. But I think that mainly they like to come and look through the books. And every time they come they have a better idea of what they are looking for and what interests them.”

When Moskowitz is asked about what she hopes will come of the students’ more intense exposure to the JML under the current pilot program, she speaks about both short-term and long-term impacts. “I want to see the kids coming in, having an idea of what they’re looking for, being comfortable asking for help, and really being happy to be here—maybe even coming in during non-school hours and coming with their family. I also hope they will become life-long readers, and that they will learn that when they go off into the world that in any city, in any community, a library is one place they can go and be welcomed.”

While the idea of a partnership between the library and the school seems a no-brainer—as Moskowitz points out, “the school and the JML have the same mission, which is to be of service to the kids of this community”—the reason for calling the new school-day programming a “pilot program” has to do with the feasibility of sustaining the new operation while also maintaining and, hopefully, expanding other youth-oriented library services. These include the pre-K and after-school programs, but also special programs such as the exceptional month-long “Leaps of Imagination” arts program for fourth graders.

“The support for the pilot program has been wonderful from both the school and the library,” Moskowitz acknowledges, “but the library is definitely going to need to find extra resources for it. I’m hopeful, though, that as more community people see it in action they’ll understand the benefit and help provide that additional support.”—JW

PHOTOS: Top, Betsy Welch; bottom, Julie Wortman

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