Iowa STEM Blog

Thursday, June 6, 2022
By: Dee Wesbrook, Linn-Mar Community School District

Three Linn-Mar High School students built three Little Free Libraries which they are installing in low-income areas in hopes of keeping kids reading during the summer months. Junior Carly Schrum and Seniors Ally Anderson and Rita Tofanelli developed and organized a “Paws for Reading” program with second grade students at Indian Creek Elementary during the school year. As their program continued, they started wondering how they could transfer the student’s excitement for reading to the months of summer vacation. 

“The kids get so excited about reading, but some kids don’t have the resources or support they need to keep reading while not in school,” said Junior Carly Schrum. 

The trio brainstormed and came up with the idea of building three Little Free Libraries, stocking them with books and including their own summer reading program so kids could track their reading progress. Each library will include reading accountability sheets with the theme “Stop the Summer Slide.”

“The Summer Slide” is the theory that kids who don’t read during the summer often lose the reading progress they developed during the previous school year, said Senior Rita Tofanelli. “We wanted to prevent that and keep the kids reading.”

Each reading accountability sheet prompts students to read for 20 minutes every day during summer break. Students get to cross off a Paw for every day they read, which acts as an incentive to keep reading. 

“There are other summer reading programs out there, at local libraries and through the Cedar Rapids Kernels, but we were worried about those kids who might not have transportation or easy access to books,” said Senior Ally Anderson. “We thought this might be a unique way to help.”

The students have learned valuable skills during this project and have been supported by many people along the way. Emily Russ from MEDCO suggested the team pitch the idea to Jim McGrew at Suburban Lumber, who generously donated all the wood and many supplies for the libraries. Friends of the Marion Library donated children’s books and Linn-Mar’s Key Club donated money for the purchase of additional books to stock the libraries.

The greatest help, however, came from Billy Frosch, an Industrial Arts teacher at Linn-Mar.

“We initially asked Mr. Frosch to help us cut the wood for the Little Libraries and he quickly realized he was dealing with novice builders,” said Venture teacher Dee Wesbrook. “He demonstrated how to use many different tools, and basically took us step-by-step through the building process. We couldn’t have done it without his help.”

“Reading is so important. It not only stimulates the brain but it also improves creativity, imagination, memory and focus. Good readers make better writers and getting lost in a book can also help people to relax, and can reduce stress,” said Tofanelli.

“We just hope our little project will foster the love of reading over the summer and into the future,” said Schrum.

This Free Little Library project was part of the English strand in Venture Academics, Linn-Mar High School’s new project-based learning program. Venture Academics teaches students high school coursework with a project/community involvement focus. Students apply what they are learning to real world applications and develop strong 21st century skills, such as problem solving, communication, creativity, time management, and the ability to work collaboratively.

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