Morton McMichael students could find reading is ‘cool’
Although a public library is within a five-block walk of the school, the K–8 Morton McMichael School at 35th Street and Fairmount Avenue has gone without a working, suitable school library for 25 years.
An untold number of youth were ill-served by the lack of a school-based library, but the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children — WePAC — looks to change that when it reopens the library on Friday. WePAC and its band of volunteers have completely restocked the library with more than 2,000 new books, and will help staff the library during school hours.
“Back in the spring, we were looking for new schools to go in to, schools that didn’t have working libraries, and we met with people from McMichael,” said WePAC Executive Director David Florig. “McMichael had a wonderful space for a library, but it was lacking books, content and color. It wasn’t really set up at all to be a library.
“Our volunteers spent all summer and the early part of fall cataloging the books and working on the library.”
WePAC will unveil the new library on Friday, October 12 at 10 a.m., and the public is welcomed to attend and also sign up to volunteer.
The average generation length in the United States is 25 years, which means that an entire generation has come and gone during the quarter century in which McMichael’s library has been shuttered. Although the Charles L. Durham branch of the Free Library System, located at 33rd Street and Haverford Avenue, has served the neighborhood since it opened in 1979, the lack of access to a stocked school library at one of the only schools in the immediate community can have a direct impact on the academics of McMichael’s students.
And it appears that new Morton McMichael Principal Brian Wallace could use the help. According to the School District of Philadelphia, McMichael significantly lags behind the district’s average PSSA scores — specifically, McMichael’s third-grade PSSA scores in reading are nearly 30 percentage points lower than the district average. In fact, McMichael’s reading grades on the PSSA don’t reach or exceed the district average until the eighth grade.
Florig hopes that with this new library, the lower grades will not only catch up to the proficiency shown by eighth-grade students, but that it will help change the learning atmosphere as well.
“Based on what other principals have told us, having a school library that kids can come to changes the culture of the school,” Florig said. “Reading then becomes a good thing to do, a cool thing to do, and students learn independent reading. In the long run, we hope that by bringing more books in, the PSSA scores will go up and kids will stay interested, engaged and hopefully go on to college.”
This is the second library WePAC has reopened, joining Samuel Gompers Elementary School. WePAC, Florig said, plans on opening at least a pair of libraries in the spring, but haven’t yet decided which two will be selected.
“One of the things we look for when deciding to open a particular new school library is if the school is struggling, and if the reading scores are below average, and that’s the case with McMichael,” Florig said. “We also look for a principal that is excited, and Wallace is a brand new principal who is really committed to improving the school and making it a great neighborhood school.”