'Remember the joy of books'
Remembering how her mother read to her as a child and how she in turn read to her children, kindergarten teacher Lisa Cenimo, wanted to offer that opportunity to other children and parents.
“I just remember the joy of books,” Cenimo said. “I just wanted that for every child who doesn’t even have a book.”
Cenimo, who is an educator at Jersey Shore Elementary School, was attending a seminar, when she first was introduced to the concept of “little libraries.” Thinking they looked “adorable” and would be nice to start in the community, she was interested in finding a way to get families more engaged with their children’s education.
“I was trying to think of a way to incorporate family engagement in another fashion,” she said. “Most of the time there is an event at school. It’s a movie night or, it’s a math night. They get a lot of people who come but there are a lot of people who don’t come. It could be that they work second shift. It could be that they don’t have transportation to get here. Maybe their own judgments of school and their uneasiness of coming keeps them from coming.”
“I thought what a great way to bring the families here or the children on their own to get a book in their hand,” she added.
The “little libraries” are stocked with books that are donated and children can come and take a book, keep it for as long as they want and then return it to get another. Cenimo said that curators will be assigned to take care of each of the little libraries, which will eventually be located at the elementary schools in the district.
“I just thought the idea was perfect for children to walk up to it on their own or riding their bike. They’re here at school, they leave school. They’re here for some things afterward, maybe with a sibling, or their parents can come here any time they’re available — on the weekends, some other time that they’re free,” she said, “That way they can come and enjoy a book and take one home for their child.”
Once she got the idea for the little libraries, Cenimo realized that there were zoning rules and other regulations that had to be taken into account. After working on the project for about a year, she was ready to move forward. She connected with the building specialist, building principals, superintendent and shared her ideas.
“I wanted to incorporate more students not just in the books, but in building it. Then of course, designing it, painting it. It just became like a snowball,” Cenimo shared.
She enlisted the help of the high school’s shop department and teacher Heath Rager in realizing her vision. Rager included the construction of the little libraries in his class curriculum.
“I sent him (Rager) ideas and plans and showed him the website where I get these ideas,” she said. “He talked to the students. They made the plans for it and cut the wood and put it together.”
Ever the educator, Cenimo found a way to incorporate the project into an instructional unit on wood for her kindergarten students.
“Part of our science unit here in kindergarten is to teach children about wood. That wood is in different forms. What is made of wood,” she said. “So, I said, why don’t we take them up to the shop class so they can see what it’s all about. That people do work with wood.”
While the students visited Rager’s wood shop class, he taught a lesson about sawdust, wood parts and different kinds of wood. Cenimo also brought in students from Jersey Shore’s Key Club. Key Club members were tasked with coming up with a design for painting the little libraries and executing the design, the only stipulation was that the kindergartners had to be incorporated into the process.
In the end, the 122 kindergarten students filed through and added their fingerprints to the design element of the little libraries. The libraries are expected to be finished and installed in the spring.
And, of course the kindergarten students will receive a lesson on cement when they are installed. With 61 percent of low income families in the state not owning any books for their children, Cenimo stressed the importance of the little libraries.
“This is something that is just free. You walk up, take a book. You don’t even have to put a book in there and you can keep it forever. You can read it, bring it back, put it in there or at a different library,” she said.