published Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Brown Middle School's partnership with public library increases access to books

Katie Hawkins reads "Blessings in Disguise" by Reshonda Tate Billingsley during Katie Hawkins' seventh-grade language arts class at Brown Middle School.
Katie Hawkins reads "Blessings in Disguise" by Reshonda Tate Billingsley during Katie Hawkins' seventh-grade language arts class at Brown Middle School.
Photo by Dan Henry.

Students noticed almost immediately the day the book about spiders arrived on Katie Hawkins’ desk at Brown Middle School.

Hawkins’ seventh-grade language arts classes never had seen the book, and they were intrigued.

“They were all gathering around my desk,” the teacher said. “It was something new.”

Hawkins partnered with the public library to give her students access to the book about arachnids along with tens of thousands of other titles available at the downtown facility. It is the first such arrangement with the public library.

She hopes that availability of books will encourage students to read more and read often.

So far, it seems to be working.

“Once they see someone else do it, they get excited,” she said of checking out books from the city’s library system.

Students browse the library’s full catalog online in class. After they choose a book, the library sends it to its Eastgate branch to be picked up by Hawkins, who makes regular trips between the school and the library.

Hawkins said middle-school teachers are placing a larger emphasis on reading and writing. Students read at least 30 minutes each day in school, and the school has built in incentives for those who read more.

If students read a certain number of pages, they’re allowed to wear regular clothes to school for a day, rather than the standard uniform.

Since focusing on reading, some students have improved their reading level by two or three grade levels in just a year, she said.

“It’s amazing when you see them get engaged. Already I can see a lot of changes,” she said. “We just read, read, read constantly.”

Seventh-grader DeAundre Mitchell most enjoys reading adventure, science fiction and horror books. His parents don’t regularly take him to the public library, he said, but he now has access to all the downtown library has to offer.

“It’s pretty cool,” said DeAundre, 12. “If you can’t find a book here, they’ll have it.”

Lee Hope, who oversees children and young adult services at the public library, said this is the first time the library has offered such a partnership with a school. Some teachers will send home library card applications with students, but even then the onus is on parents to take children to the library.

At Brown, parents don’t have any extra responsibility beyond filling out the paperwork and making sure books are sent back on time. That saves them about a 15-mile drive each way from Brown’s location in the Harrison area.

Hope said the library is able to offer a much larger book selection than cash-strapped school libraries can. And, the downtown library has 265,000 books, far more than its branch locations.

“School library budgets are not very large at all,” she said. “We just have so much room, so we have a much larger collection.”

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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