CHICAGO – Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy in Detroit and Rowe Elementary School in Rowe, Mass., are the recipients of the 2014 catastrophic disaster relief grants offered as part of the American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) Beyond Words Grant funded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.
In 2012, Dollar General renewed its commitment to school libraries by increasing grant amounts and introducing two $50,000 catastrophic disaster relief grants. To qualify for a catastrophic award, eligible schools suffered a 90 percent or greater loss to the school library program due to a natural disaster, fire or an act recognized by the federal government as terrorism. Applications are accepted on an ongoing basis and can be accessed online at www.ala.org/aasl/disasterrelief.
"The Beyond Words Catastrophic Grant would allow an opportunity at revitalizing and replacing vital reading materials that were destroyed by the fire we experienced in 2011,” said Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy Principal Jeffrey Robinson. On May 10, 2011, a bolt of lightning hit the school, and the resulting blaze destroyed the entire building and school library collection. Teachers and students were forced to relocate, leaving behind both memories and learning materials.
Founded in 1989, Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy was the first publicly-funded, African-centered school in America. The school library program centered on African and African-American materials, not only as a as a means of extending students' academic work, but to urge its students to continue their rich, cultural legacy. “With the intensified objectives of Detroit Public Schools to improve and increase reading literacy, the grant allows the purchase of books and related materials and equipment that will better prepare Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy to meet the challenges of the school district and most of all the need of our students.”
Principal William Knittle also experienced firsthand the devastation a fire can wreak on a school community. He describes the tragedy which struck Rowe Elementary School as part of its grant application: “During a violent summer storm on the afternoon of Aug. 4, 2012, lightning struck the Rowe Elementary School. The building was quickly engulfed in flames and, despite the assistance of over 125 firefighters from local communities, the entire school and 100 percent of the contents were lost in the fire. Fortunately, no one was in the building.” A neighboring school took in the displaced Rowe students and shared its library collection, but due to the crowded conditions other library program services have temporarily suspended.
“Instilling a life-long love of reading has always been part of our mission at the Rowe Elementary School,” said Knittle. “Our library has been a part of that mission and the heart of the school. After our building was destroyed, our students were left without the support that our library offered. This grant allows the students the opportunity to experience a beautiful, new, state-of-the-art library, ready to support learning of all kinds and at all levels.”
Since 2006, the Beyond Words grant program has provided relief to public school libraries nationwide that have suffered materials losses because of a major disaster ranging from hurricanes, tornados, flood, earthquakes, fires or an act of terrorism. To date, more than 1.5 million dollars in grants have been awarded to over 150 schools across the country. Funds replaced or supplemented books, media and/or library equipment within the school library or offset costs incurred by those schools opening their doors to significant numbers of new students displaced by the disaster.
“The loss of a school library goes beyond the physical building and the material resources it contains,” said AASL President Gail Dickinson. “Both of these schools lost valuable parts of their communities – Rowe Elementary lost the heart of its school and Paul Robeson an important cultural collection. It is so heartening to see how both towns have responded to this tragedy as neighboring schools have taken in students and shared their resources. Both communities are renewing their commitment to their student’s education by focusing on rebuilding their spaces and collections. AASL is deeply grateful for the continuing support of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. By funding the Beyond Words program, they have brightened the lives of countless children across the country.”
The American Association of School Librarians, www.aasl.org, a division of the American Library Association (ALA), promotes the improvement and extension of library services in elementary and secondary schools as a means of strengthening the total education program. Its mission is to advocate excellence, facilitate change and develop leaders in the school library field.