'90s students struggle to learn with '40s books School library at Havre de Grace way out of date

March 28, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

The world atlas at the Havre de Grace Elementary library is nearly 20 years old. Many history books date to the 1960s and include stereotypical images of women, "Negroes" and other minorities. The school bought the library's most recent set of encyclopedias in 1983.

So much for researching current events -- or anything else that's happened in the past few decades.

"It's hard to interest children in reading when the books are old and shabby," said Karen Petri, a long-term substitute filling in for a librarian until June.

The few new books are always checked out, she said.

Outdated resource materials make it difficult for children to research foreign countries, the United States or even Maryland.

"What I try to do is steer the children toward information on customs, things that probably haven't changed," Ms. Petri said.

The school, where nonreference books also are woefully outdated, has begun soliciting businesses and community groups for money to buy new books, said Principal Franklin L. Tull.

"We realize that the Board of Education is supposed to provide these things, but we can't wait that long," he said.

The school system's $169 million operating budget for next school year includes $145,000 for reference materials at the county's 46 schools.

Under the budget, subject to the approval of County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann and the County Council, an average elementary school, for example, would get $2,500.

But that money isn't enough to upgrade a library where books date to the 1940s, Mr. Tull said.

Like many older schools in Harford, Havre de Grace Elementary lags so far behind in its library materials, it can't possibly update its collection with the annual outlay.

Newer schools' materials are much more up-to-date because with a new school comes a new library -- full of new books.

Many Havre de Grace Elementary students are from poor families and are unlikely to go to the public library or get new books as gifts, Mr. Tull said.

More than half of the school's 530 students receive free or reduced-price lunches, reflecting a school population that one of the poorest in the county. To qualify under federal guidelines for free lunches, a family with one child would have to make $8,600 a year or less.

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