Target helps build strong readers while constructing school library makeovers

By Jill Warren Lucas

An eager student at Park Ridge Elementary in Ft. Lauderdale helps to cut the ribbon at the official unveiling of its Target-sponsored School Library Makeover. Below, technology upgrades include work stations for students and resources for teachers to create innovative new lesson plans.

Profitable back-to-school sales are a boon to many retailers, who count on every pencil sold to boost their bottom line.

Fortunately, some businesses are able to return a portion of their profits to benefit local communities. Target has a longstanding corporate commitment to give back 5 percent of profits from its 1,856 stores – about $4 million every week – through programs that support the environment, health and well-being, safety and preparedness, and volunteerism.

The Minneapolis chain also focuses its philanthropy on education, including the Meals for Minds program which partners with Feeding America to ensure that students have access to nutritious food at their schools. It also provides grants to K-12 classrooms to support early childhood reading programs, as well as art and cultural experiences.

School Library Makeover is the signature program of its $1 billion campaign to support education. Since 2007, Target has renovated 150 elementary school libraries across the country. Schools are selected because their students had low levels of reading proficiency and high rates of poverty.

In partnership with The Heart of America Foundation, which promotes success through literacy, workers and volunteers gut and even expand outdated spaces to provide new carpet, furniture and, importantly, shelves to hold 2,000 new books. Significant technology upgrades are part of the package, and schools have the opportunity to receive a Meals for Minds food pantry to help in-need students and their families with fresh produce and nutritious food staples.

Another 25 schools have been selected for projects that will begin soon. Celebrations are held when new libraries are unveiled. Each student – and their siblings, if present – receive seven new books to expand or start their own home library.

Principals involved with the projects say the impact on both student achievement and self-esteem has been extraordinary. Brad Rumble of Leo Politi Elementary School in Los Angeles credits the change to “pride of ownership.”

“What I did not expect was that this school pride has spilled over into other aspects of school life,” Rumble says. “I especially see the change in our older students – for example, our fifth-grade students, whose maturity and confidence amaze us in so many ways.”

Houston’s Burbank Elementary School has observed a significant increase in the number of students participating in its Accelerated Reading program. “This is especially true for bilingual Spanish-reading students,” says Principal Hilarion Martinez. “Their circulation use has increased because they have been provided with even more Spanish titles than were previously offered.”

Martinez adds that that teachers and parents are thrilled with the library improvements. “Everyone seems to have forgotten the look of the former library. Even the new smell has taken people by surprise,” he says.

“Teachers now consistently request specific books and class sets as it relates to their students’ reading needs and unit objectives. Students enjoy learning from tablets and being able to interact with the SmartBoard during the lessons being taught.  Many do not have a computer or tablet at home, which makes them so eager and much more willing to complete learning objectives and learn how to navigate the technology resources.”

Technology has been deployed for professional development training at Park Ridge Elementary School in Ft. Lauderdale. “Teachers have been inspired by the new library to use the additional resources during lesson implementation,” says media specialist Gina McKnight Ade-Onojobi, noting that many are creating “text sets” with books, videos and other resources to support lesson implementation. “Lesson planning and development is critical to effective teacher delivery and student mastery.”

Ade-Onojobi adds that the welcoming environment has created an association of the library as a fun place to visit. Circulation of books doubled from the 2011-12 to 2012-13 school year – including use by parents who take advantage of the new section of self-help titles for adults.

Principal Maria Arias Evans has seen a similar response at Washington Elementary in predominantly Latino San Jose, Calif., a Title I school where 95 percent of students qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. The interest has not waned since its library was overhauled five years ago.

“Because of the ongoing support of books and resources by Target, my school has made significant growth on state testing,” Evans says. “Miraculously, as reading scores improve, so do math scores. But most importantly, a Latino immigrant community has embraced their school six days a week, 12 months out of the year. Yes, the library is open June and July – because the need for reading in a struggling community does not allow for a break from reality.”

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