Partnership gives library, pupils the gift of reading

Book-buying program helps Fallstaff Elementary fill void


News from around the Baltimore region

July 03, 2005|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The rows of shelves that line Fallstaff Elementary School's library are half-bare, with stuffed animals serving as placeholders in spots where there are no books.

But to Principal Faith Hibbert, the shelves appear half-full.

For much of the past school year, there was not a single library book at Fallstaff Elementary, which recently converted from a middle school and did not have money to stock its library with elementary-age reading materials.

Now, because of a partnership between Fallstaff and CHAI, the community development agency of Associated Jewish Charities, there are 2,000 new books -- ranging from encyclopedias to Spanish-language storybooks -- on the library's shelves. Hibbert's goal is to have 6,000 books available to her 240 pupils.

The book-buying began when CHAI, which stands for Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. and means life in Hebrew, noticed the empty library and gave $1,500 to Hibbert to purchase books.

That gift was quickly followed by more money from businesses, anonymous donors and politicians.

"The library looked gorgeous, and there wasn't a book on the shelves," said Susan Patz, co-chairwoman of the Northwest School Community Partnership, a CHAI program that targets four schools in that part of the city: Fallstaff and Cross Country elementary schools and Pimlico Middle and Northwestern High.

Fallstaff's library is one of several projects CHAI has tackled since it formed the partnership in 1997 to promote better relations between schools and the community's residents, a diverse mix of Jews, blacks and Latinos.

"The basic premise is that good schools make good neighborhoods," said Jill Blumenthal, coordinator of the partnership. "There's both a social justice component as well as a self-serving component."

CHAI draws upon an extensive network of community members, nonprofit groups and businesses.

Over several years, the partnership has marshaled donations and volunteers to beautify the schools. They repaired Fallstaff's auditorium, opened a health center at Northwestern High, started a tutoring program at Cross Country Elementary and arranged for the Lyric Opera to perform for pupils.

The group also helped persuade the school system to turn Cross Country into an elementary-middle school starting this fall, a change many parents wanted.

The partnership also worked behind the scenes to help schools.

When Fallstaff received a donation of computers, for example, the administration said it would take months for technicians to find the time to install software on the units. CHAI made phone calls and got the administration to train a Fallstaff employee to perform the task.

Future projects include removing Fallstaff's decaying blacktop, which the principal described as a hazard for children, and replacing it with green space and a parking lot.

Hibbert said CHAI's help has been invaluable to her school and has freed her to take care of other responsibilities.

If she had not had the extra hands, she said, "It would mean less time [focusing on] instruction and having to do more things on my own."

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