NEW ORLEANS – Discount retailer Dollar General, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and the National Education Association (NEA) today announced the first grant recipients of Beyond Words: the Dollar General School Library Relief Fund. Thirty-two schools in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas serving more than 22,000 students received grants totaling $230,000.
Beyond Words: the Dollar General School Library Relief Fund provides grants to rebuild and expand public school library media programs affected by disasters – including those that have opened their doors to significant numbers of students displaced by last year’s hurricanes. Individual school grants ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 each will be used to purchase books, media, and library equipment that support learning in a school library environment. The $800,000 program is funded by Dollar General and administered by AASL, with support from the NEA.
“Reading the grant applications both breaks your heart and fills you with pride for the work school library media specialists and other educators are doing in the wake of such personal and institutional devastation,” said AASL President J. Linda Williams. “America’s school libraries are places of collaboration, innovation and exploration. If we are serious about student achievement, we must be serious about funding and restoring our school library media centers.”
Grant recipient Benjamin Franklin High School hosted the announcement and received a grant for $10,000 to begin rebuilding its library collection and resources, most of which was lost after sitting in two feet of water for three weeks. The collection used to number more than 13,000 items. Due to high humidity and temperature, the library is still losing books and equipment to mold and mildew. Library service continued on the school’s second floor in the spring term, but the cramped temporary space has hindered basic services.
“Our school community has worked hard to not only survive, but to succeed,” said school library media specialist Idella Washington. “The library has always been a center of learning and achievement for our students, and I am committed to restoring our services. These funds are vital for fully bringing my library back for our 600+ students in the next school term.”
Almost 200 public schools were damaged or destroyed in Louisiana, and dozens were affected in Mississippi. And across the region many schools took in many displaced students and stretched to provide the books and multimedia resources needed to support teaching and learning. M.E. Norman Elementary School in Morgan City, La., absorbed a 32 percent increase in student enrollment and anticipates additional growth for the fall term after new temporary housing from FEMA was established in the school district.
“How do we create normalcy and foster lifelong learning without the necessary tools?” asks President-Elect Leslie Burger. “For many children, the school library is their first experience with a library and the help that a librarian can give them. I’m grateful to Dollar General for their support of our school libraries, and honored to be a part of this national effort.”
First priority for the grants has been given to school libraries impacted by hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma – either through direct loss or through an increase in enrollment due to displaced/evacuee students. A certified school librarian at the campus, district or regional level may be involved in the selection of materials/equipment to be purchased.
“Our members are deeply committed to children and public education, and we know it will cost millions to replace books, magazines and media centers in our public schools,” said NEA Executive Committee member Michael Marks. “Beyond Words: the Dollar General School Library Relief Fund is a stellar example of how businesses can work with educators to make public schools great.”
Nationally, students make 1.5 billion visits to school library media centers during the school year – to conduct research, check out books for leisure reading, use electronic resources and receive instruction on how to find, evaluate and use information from a variety of sources.
"Beyond Words: The Dollar General School Library Relief Program is a natural extension of Dollar General’s daily efforts to promote literacy and education,” said David Perdue, Dollar General’s chairman and CEO. “Following recent disasters in our country, we recognized the need for support of school libraries impacted by these tragedies. Through this program, we want to ensure that children whose schools have been impacted by a disaster have the opportunity to learn and grow through reading. This is particularly important when many children only have access to books at their school library.”
Dollar General has more than 8,000 neighborhood stores in 34 states – including 2,411 in Texas, Florida and the Gulf Coast states.
A second phase of the disaster relief effort is to increase the capability of school library media specialists to prepare for a disaster. As a result, school library media specialists will be better able to raise awareness among teachers and parents about disaster preparedness.
Grant funding is still available for school libraries affected by disaster, and the grant review committee will review applications monthly. To learn more about this program and sponsors, please visit the AASL Web site at www.ala.org/aasl/disasterrelief.