Reading in the Santa Fe Elementary School Library will be taken to a whole new level in the coming school year, with the help of a $5,000 grant from the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries.
Santa Fe is one of 300 schools selected from across the nation to receive a grant award, with the goal of encouraging all students to develop a love of reading and learning.
Angela Watson, Santa Fe’s library paraprofessional, plans to use the funds to update the school’s collection of books, including replacing those that have been worn out from use.
“Our library needs an overhaul,” Watson said. “It is well-used, and our books are well-read. Much of our inventory needs to be updated and replaced. When our school opened in 2007, we acquired a number of books from the former Santa Fe and JN Long campus libraries, in addition to new ones.
“We need to weed out a large section of books that are outdated or in really bad condition. With this grant, we will replace them with new and more relevant books, along with fresh copies of those that have been lovingly worn out due to their popularity with our readers.”
The grant will also expand the number of books for emerging bilingual students who are building literacy skills in their home language while also mastering English.
“Our dual language learners need to have materials available in their native language to inspire their love of reading,” Watson said. “Having a broad selection of books and materials gives students who may be struggling with learning a new language something that is familiar and comfortable — and can be taken home to read with their parents. This grant will help us provide books for students and families of all backgrounds.”
Watson said she believes her school library extends beyond a place where students can come to check out a book.
“Sometimes it’s a refuge — a place to get away for a few minutes,” she said. “A book can take you to new worlds, where you read about things you’ve never heard of. A visit to the library provides a change in environment and often a place to reset, while also being a place to learn. Everyone is welcome here, no matter what.”
In addition to updating and enhancing the book inventory, Watson says the national grant award also serves as the finale to an ongoing initiative, led by Principal Sabina Landeros, to give the library a more kid-friendly feel.
In spring 2017, a “reading railroad” with an engine and two passenger cars, built by Cleburne High School architecture and construction students, was added to the library furnishings. It remains a favorite place where students climb aboard and read. Kid-size tables, chairs and stools in crayon colors complete the setting.
Landeros said the Laura Bush Foundation library grant is a huge honor for Santa Fe and will help fuel the efforts at her campus to build and enhance student litera cy— and a love for reading.
“I’m proud to be the leader of a campus that feels so much support from this community — and now a former first lady who continues to look out for public schools,” Landeros said. “We are constantly tracking the growth of our students in their reading skills and comprehension. A love of reading is evident in our students by their STAAR accountability scores. It’s exciting to see our school continuing to inch toward the top in knowledge and growth gains, and in what they are achieving academically.
“Some kids may not like reading, perhaps because they haven’t found an author or book genre they enjoy. This grant will help with that, in providing a variety of books — and through them adventures for all our diverse readers.”
Watson said she’s seen over and over what the library can do for learners.
“Whether they see me being passionate about a book, or reading to a class, that can inspire them to read,” she said. “I had one student tell me she couldn’t read. But we found her something she could read — and that was a turning point. She’s almost reading on grade level now.”
The Laura Bush Foundation funding is the latest in a string of grant awards, totaling $18,000, presented to Santa Fe during Watson’s five years in the library.
That includes four Innovative Grants from the Cleburne Education Foundation, along with $2,000 from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and a $1,000 award from Whataburger for Texas school libraries.
“It’s been a learning curve,” Watson said. “I research every grant I hear about that focuses on literacy through libraries. I like to write, and I think I know how to express what we need in an engaging way. Our library is my pride and joy, so receiving a grant award is personal. My first thought every time is, ‘the kids are going to love what comes from this.’”
Now on summer break, Watson will be returning to Santa Fe periodically as shipments of new library books are delivered.
“I’m hoping by the time the kids come back to school in August, all the new books we have purchased with this grant will be on the shelves,” she said. “We want kids to want to read the books in our library. I get lots of feedback from them, and I think they will be excited about all our new books — just waiting to be read.”