By Kristin Boza
Many adults attribute their success to their elementary school library. Having a room dedicated to reading and research is important for students. With numerous CPS budget cuts over the years, many public schools lost their school libraries and librarians. Students at Vanderpoel Humanities Academy, 9510 S. Prospect, began a quest that resulted in the entire community coming together to revitalize their school library.
Kim Donson, Vanderpoel alum and former Vanderpoel librarian, is entering her 25th year at the school, now as the Student Affairs Administrator. After graduating from college and completing her student teaching at Vanderpoel, she was offered a spot as the librarian. About five years ago, the library was closed and the space was used for computer classes. Donson was concerned about the students not only losing out on their school library, but also the lessons she taught as an extension of what they learned in the classroom.
“School libraries are so much more than grabbing a book off the shelf,” Donson said. “Librarians teach students how to research and find books, as well as provide a valuable hour of instruction for the students.”
The journey to the revitalized library began when a few Vanderpoel alumnae, one of whom participated in the Obama Foundation Community Leadership Corps, formed Black & Well, an organization designed to integrate wellness into the black community in Chicago. The women held a contest for Vanderpoel students to come up with an idea and develop an implementation plan that would benefit their school, with the winner earning $500 to put the plan into motion.
One group of 7th graders wanted to start up the school library again. Although their project didn’t win the contest, their proposal gained the attention of Carla Herr, president of the GFWC Beverly Hills Junior Woman’s Club. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs, of which the Beverly Hills Junior Woman’s Club is a part, has a history of creating public libraries dating back to the 1930s; based on that history, Herr knew this project would be a great fit for her club.
“I contacted the school and offered our services. We started sharing our book drive on social media in July and ultimately delivered nearly 3,000 books to Vanderpoel,” Herr said. “Once we started collecting, we cleaned each book and sorted them by grade level and author. Kim [Donson] even worked weekends to accommodate our deliveries to make this a reality, and we wouldn’t have been able to do it if not for her energy and enthusiasm. We were also able to furnish a reading nook with beanbag chairs, a rug, some throw pillows, a rocking chair and some additional bookcases.”
“I love and appreciate Carla and her team and all the work they’ve done,” Donson said. “Our students completely organized the library, shelving books and cleaning up the space. The best part was hearing a student say, ‘The library is good for someone like me who has a hard time reading; it’s good to come in here so I can practice.’ That’s what it’s all about and libraries are so important for our students.”
The donations from the Beverly Hills Juniors Club went beyond what Donson expected, and the library has been transformed into a beautiful, usable space. Currently, Donson teaches six classes with the hope to have a class for every kindergarten through 8th grade class next year.
“We are a really small club, but we try to pick projects that are impactful,” Herr said. “Many of our members are former educators and they know that reading is a wonderful way to experience things without ever leaving your home.”
Herr and the Beverly Hills Juniors are continuing to collect books; to schedule a pick-up, email BeverlyJuniors@gmail.com.