Education Opinion

Knights Around the Tables

By Roslyn Johnson Smith, Ph.D. — January 21, 2008 3 min read
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In honor of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, many of our local high school and college students decided to do service projects today. Our school benefited from the services of 12 young men from a nearby boys’ high school. The students arrived at our school promptly at 9:30 a.m. traveling by public service or parent chauffeurs. They were wearing their uniform pants and some type of school tee shirt or sweatshirt. Our task was to unpack and shelve over eighty boxes of library books. We had less than three hours to complete the work.

One of our board members was working with his alumni association and I asked him to see if we could get some help to set up our library. Earlier in the week, when the high school’s newly appointed coordinator of alumni affairs contacted me, I started to envision an inviting place for students and the community. The building was recently repaired and only in need of a thermostat for the HVAC system. It’s furnished with basic tables, chairs, etc. and a start-up collection of books for students in Pre-K to 8th grade.

The school’s principal was there with his own teenage son. Another board member showed up with his wife. I was slightly doubtful that we could finish everything in one day. I had heard that the students might not be exactly volunteers. All of that parochial school’s students are required to do service hours or risk failing certain courses. As it turned out, these young men were not working because they were fulfilling a service requirement. They had volunteered to help a needy school on what would have been a holiday for them. The focused, energetic way they worked steadily for over two hours convinced me that they were doing a labor of love that could not be the result of a requirement.

We did not have a list of the books or an inventory from which to work, so it wasn’t possible to know how much shelf space any particular group of books would require. Luckily, we had the assistance of a librarian from a neighboring parish. Priscilla was my school librarian in the 1990’s. She was able to give us needed information about the approximate size of each section. She shared information such as where we should put the “Easy” books for the younger children and saving enough space for the “History” books in the 900 section. Another librarian friend, Pam, told me to make signs for the different sections. I taped these to the wall and the students put the books in the appropriate area. All of the books are grouped in the right section, if not in strict numerical or alphabetical order.

A few of the students were insistent that they could not leave until the huge fiction collection was in proper alphabetical order. Priscilla was the same way with the reference section which she did solo. At 11:30, we began straightening up the seating area, throwing away trash, and moving extra shelving parts to the workroom. As he surveyed the orderly, attractive room, the principal said, ‘I’m having my next faculty meeting in here.”

We agreed that it would be difficult to find a certified librarian at this time of the year. He’s hopeful that we can hire a teacher, maybe one of the recent fall semester graduates, who can teach study skills and conduct library classes. There’s no circulation desk or card catalog but we’ll manage to expose students to the joy of a school library very soon. Every book on every shelf is new.

I left the school at Noon. The faculty supervisor from the high school was still on the front steps with the last child, waiting for the child’s parents to return. I wish that you could see the digital pictures of the diligent young men at work, helping students that they don’t even know. It was a beautiful sight. I think Dr. King would have been proud of them.

The opinions expressed in Starting Over: A Post-Katrina Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.