"Reading Promise" event opens doors to new Jenks library

by Emily Plowman, Friends of Jenks
Posted 10/27/22

The new student lending library at Jenks was officially unveiled on Oct. 13.

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"Reading Promise" event opens doors to new Jenks library


One week into the school year, a kindergarten student attending Jenks Academy for the Arts and Sciences was having an emotional day. Full days of learning for these youngsters can be overwhelming at times. 

The teacher attempted to console the student by asking about the child’s interests and walked her student down the hall to the new Collaboration Center and School Library, where a helpful volunteer, who was familiar with the Dewey Decimal System, was able to guide them to an entire section of books that were age specific. The student’s eyes widened, the child smiled, and immediately calmed down and selected stories to borrow.

This touching moment took place because Prather O’Donnell, the children’s librarian at the Chestnut Hill Library, wasn’t scheduled to work at the public library that day and was able to volunteer her time at Jenks, where her three children attend first, second and sixth grades. 

O’Donnell, along with Jenks Principal Corinne Scioli and a passionate group of volunteers, spearheaded the project to reinstate the student lending library at Jenks. And on October 13, the library was officially unveiled to the community at the school’s Reading Promise event, led by Read by 4th, a citywide reading and literacy program focused on ensuring that every child in Philadelphia has access to the skills and resources that are needed to create strong readers.

Sponsored by PNC Bank’s Grow Up Great public investment initiative, the event was co-organized by O’Donnell and Roberta Frempong, literacy and schools coordinator at the Mt. Airy Community Development Corporation, who is also president of the Jenks Home and School Association. Ms. Frempong was in the unique position of being able to represent both organizations at the afternoon gathering. 

The Reading Promise event at Jenks provided children with book giveaways, author read-alouds, face painting, musical entertainment, and delicious snacks. However, that’s not all it provided. It also opened the doors to the new school library, which helps students develop their literary interests, promotes information on digital citizenship, and fosters a love for reading.

The school library will be run by part-time Jenks staff, homeroom teachers and a small team of passionate volunteers who can dedicate several hours each day to assist the rotating visits by students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

However, libraries aren’t libraries without librarians, and running them is a full-time job. Libraries offer much needed resources to children in many formats, helping them become critical evaluators of information while teaching children to use information and technology effectively and ethically. 

The Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, which is dedicated to transforming teaching and learning through quality school library programs, has been encouraging the School District of Philadelphia to fund full-time librarians for decades. In a district of 216 schools, only four have certified librarians.

“Local private schools have multiple libraries and numerous librarians. The deficit Philly schools have in comparison is heartbreaking,” said O’Donnell, who has been spending her off-hours volunteering and encouraging Jenks’ family members and local neighbors to help at the school library. 

The ongoing plight of Jenks and their optimism for a fully operational library was recently recognized by an article featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer as well as a story on KYW news radio. While new Superintendent Tony Watlington expressed an interest in being a partner with the Free Library of Philadelphia, there are still many questions about what this model can offer the already short-staffed library system.

This undertaking was made possible through grants from the Friends of Jenks, the Chestnut Hill Community Association as well as support from Hilltop Books (run by the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library) and the Rotary Club of Chestnut Hill.

“We are so incredibly lucky to have the amazing support from our community partners who helped to create our Collaboration Center and School Library,” said Jenks Principal Corinne Scioli. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It takes a village, and we are incredibly fortunate to have the assistance and encouragement from our neighbors to make our school the best it can be. We remain hopeful that our library will become a sustainable model for our students to become life-long learners every day.”