San Francisco Schools Superintendent Richard Carranza gestured toward the rows of brand-new books at Sanchez Elementary School’s new library and said, “This is where you come to dream and be lost.”
The vibrantly decorated library, a gift from Target Corp. and the nonprofit literacy group Heart of America Foundation, contains about 2,000 new books, 20 iPads and student–sized furnishings worth a total $100,000 to $150,000. The makeover was awarded to Sanchez after a competitive application process that began last spring.
“This is to get kids excited about literacy,” said Rachelle Resnick, the San Francisco Unified School District’s program administrator for library services. The gift comes during an era of lagging public funding for school libraries.
At a celebration last Thursday, a crowd of students, teachers and parents lined the library’s walls, which are newly painted and adorned with quotations, including poet Maya Angelou’s famous “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener addressed the crowd, highlighting the connection between student literacy rates and school libraries and thanking parents and the community for their continued participation and support.
“It’s the community as a whole that raises these schools up,” said Wiener. “When I came into office, I actually said, ‘Sanchez is the school that I want to help the most,’ because Sanchez is a school that in the past has struggled, and it’s completely turning things around.”
The library makeover began in the spring of 2012, when the San Francisco Unified School District selected eight schools it perceived to have the strongest need for a wholesale library renovation. It sent applications for the eight schools to Heart of America, which picked three for the final selection round.
“They came out here and visited all three schools, talked to the principal and librarian, and of those three schools, they picked Sanchez,” Resnick said. The Sanchez library was selected for the coveted library renovation in the summer of 2012.
The renovations go far beyond the school district’s financial capacity, Resnick said.
Funding for struggling San Francisco school libraries took a turn in 2004, when voters approved Proposition H, which established the city’s Public Education Enrichment Fund. The passage of Prop. H came at a time of dwindling district resources and decreased state and federal funding.
While a portion of the Prop. H money was set aside for school libraries, many still lack crucial resources, including up-to-date books and direct services for students five days a week — a statewide problem. According to the California Department of Education, there is only one teacher librarian for every 5,124 students.
Educators like Superintendent Carranza maintain that libraries are a fundamental part of the student experience, and a wide body of research links student achievement with well-developed school libraries.
Carranza called Sanchez’ library “the heart of the school” in his speech on Thursday.
The new library’s amenities include student-sized ottomans and electronic tablets. The latter drew an excited response from students, who gleefully pumped their fists and high-fived each other when Carranza told them the library would contain iPads.
Angie Halamandaris, the co-founder and president of Heart of America, looked in their direction. “Are you guys going to read all the 2,000 brand-new books?” she asked.
“Yes!” several responded.
In the coming year, Heart of America, together with Target, plans to renovate 32 libraries nationally. The organization works closely with school districts to encourage certain schools to apply, said Halamandaris.
“These are schools that usually have high free and reduced lunch numbers, that have strong leaders, and schools that have a need, that a library would make a huge difference in the literacy education of students,” she said.
At Sanchez, 83 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and 78 percent were English learners in 2011, according to the 2011 Base Academic Performance Index Report.
While the school’s test scores are improving, 34 percent — just over one-third — of second-grade students scored at or above the proficient level in English language arts on the 2012 California Standards Tests. Twenty-nine percent of third-grade students, 40 percent of fourth-grade students and 39 percent of fifth-grade students scored at or above the proficient level.
Heart of America selected Sanchez based on a combination of scores, economics and the character of the school community.
“We just fell in love with the space, and the leadership and the students. We knew that this would be such a great resource for the schools,” said Halamandaris.