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First Lady Aids Hurricane-Damaged School Libraries

By Alyson Klein — March 14, 2006 3 min read
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Touring some of the areas hit hardest by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita with the president last week, first lady Laura Bush promoted a plan by her foundation to help schools in the Gulf Coast region replenish their libraries.

The Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries, a Washington-based organization that aids school libraries in expanding their book collections, plans to set aside a special fund to help those in the hurricane-damaged region get up and running again.

Mrs. Bush announced the program March 8, the first day schools could begin applying for the grants.

“This initiative will help Gulf Coast schools that were damaged rebuild their books and material collections for their school libraries. The task ahead is large,” the first lady said in a speech at College Park Elementary School in Gautier, Miss. She made a similar announcement earlier in the day while visiting New Orleans with President Bush.

Mrs. Bush noted a Department of Education estimate that 1,121 public and private school libraries were damaged or destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year. She said the cost of establishing a basic elementary school library is about $50,000, while the average secondary school library usually costs more than $100,000.

The foundation began collecting money specifically for Gulf Coast schools last November and has raised about $500,000 so far, said Beth Ann Bryan, the foundation’s executive director.

The first round of two to four grants will be awarded by late April, with more grants being distributed throughout the year. Mrs. Bush said the foundation plans to use its existing competitive-grant process for the Gulf Coast project. Since its formation in 2001, the foundation has awarded 428 grants, totaling more than $2 million, to schools in 49 states.

The organization hopes to raise at least $5 million and help at least 50 schools, Ms. Bryan said.

Schools can apply for the grants on www.laurabushfoundation.org, the foundation’s Web site. They must complete a three- to five-page narrative questionnaire. The application asks schools to describe their previous libraries and outline a budget for their new collections.

‘A Deeper Need’

Ms. Bryan said new schools that opened to replace others in the region are also eligible to apply for the grants.

“We wanted to be really flexible,” she said. Schools could use the money to restock their entire libraries, or just replace “the bottom two shelves” that may have been destroyed by floods, she added.

Ms. Bryan said the foundation plans multiple grant cycles, since many schools will not be reopening until next fall.

For now, the organization is only accepting donations of money. But it is interested in partnering with other groups working on hurricane relief and may begin accepting in-kind donations such as books in the future, Ms. Bryan said.

At least one school is already planning to apply for a grant. Gautier Elementary School, in the 7,500-student Pascagoula, Miss., school district, was “flooded and our roof was blown to bits,” said Dorothy A. Welch-Cooley, the school’s principal. “We lost all of our books, our total library.”

The school is now sharing a building, and six portable classrooms, with College Park Elementary, where the president and Mrs. Bush spoke last week.

Ms. Welch-Cooley is also filling in as head administrator of College Park Elementary, whose principal is on maternity leave. She said that although the College Park facility sustained little damage, it lost many textbooks and library books that were checked out before the storms hit.

Still, College Park, which is also in the Pascagoula district, will not be seeking one of the grants, Ms. Welch-Cooley said. “We’re not selfish—we know other schools have a deeper need,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the March 15, 2006 edition of Education Week as First Lady Aids Hurricane-Damaged School Libraries

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