Yesterday, I left the looming walls of the office pod, rode the length of the river and into the Bronx to help renovate an elementary school library. We painted carts and chalkboards and walls with the purple and green paint, I learned how to use an electric sander, I even ‘gardened’, as the spunky school librarian, Roseanna, liked to call it — meaning, I cleaned a bunch of fake plants with soap and water. I know fake plants are tacky, she said. But these kids don’t have a playground. They don’t see anything green. It didn’t seem tacky at all.
Of course, I had to know everything. Which books were the favorites. (Captain Underpants. American Girl.) How many students. (800. 6 classes a day. 35 students at a time.) How she became a librarian. (At some point the principal gave her the library to ‘see what she could do with it’. She decided she better get a degree in library sciences.)
And then the stories came. A school of 800 students with only a handful of bookshelves, no computers in the entire school until last year, when, after years of grant writing, Roseanna finally received $10,000 and 25 laptops.
Then the story of deciding to host a book fair and having everyone tell her to set her goal low because of the demographics of her students in this low-income community she works in. She dismissed them, laughed, set her goals ‘too high’ according to popular opinion, and, on the days of the fair, doubled the goal.
Then the story of calling every parent in the school she could get a hold of and walking to every local business owner in the community so she could host an after school reading event that ended up being standing room only, exploding into the hallways and adjacent classrooms.
Then the story of how she wrapped 800 books last Christmas and gave every student their very own book.
And finally the story of how she kept getting emails from someone named Caroline Kennedy, surely not that Caroline Kennedy, until it was that Caroline Kennedy at the security desk one morning, planning to visit her ‘little’ library and her 25 new laptops.
I know there are many schools in the country like this. I know there are many amazing, awesome, aren’t we so incredibly blown away fortunate we have people like this in the world, Roseanna’s. But, I loved the passion and energy here. Yes, there has been a concern of not enough at this school but I didn’t hear any stories about that. Only about the abundance. The doubling fundraiser. The from-zero-to-twenty-five laptops. The feet to the pavement, word of mouth spiral, and the book event that spilled out and ran the hallways. And, finally, I heard about Roseanna’s future goals, a long, inspiring, then this, then this, and then this, list, that ended here:
And then, I’m going to get a bookstore built in this community. I want every child here to know what it’s like to walk into a store and buy a book.
I have no doubt she will.
At the end of the day, the group of us sat down on the new rug, which, again, needed to be green, because Roseanna wanted it to look like grass, and we all agreed that it did feel an awful lot like being out in an open field. So it was decided we had to take a photo of all of us, head to head, looking toward the sky.