A New Library: Widener Education Students Collect Thousands Of Books to Open Library at Stetser Elementary School

Student helps child pick a book from the Stetser Library
Senior education major Allison Reuter helps a Stetser Elementary School child pick a book from the school’s new library.

Stetser Elementary School now has a library – thanks to four students in Widener’s Community Engaged Teacher Education (CETE) program.

The idea to build a library started when senior early childhood and special education major Melissa Damiani was paired for the semester with a class in Stetser Elementary School in the Chester Upland School District, as part of the CETE program.

The program, now in its third year, is the backbone of the Center for Education’s approach to teacher preparation and is designed to help upperclass education students learn to be culturally responsive and aware of social justice issues in an urban school within a racially, culturally and linguistically diverse setting.

“We were all welcomed into the Stetser family,” Damiani said. “However, I noticed right away the need for support.”

While other schools Damiani had taught in had fully-stocked libraries, Stetser did not.

“I quickly realized that this is the reality for many schools in the United States,” Damiani said.

Damiani took to Facebook to ask her friends and family to donate extra school supplies and books to Stetser. The outpouring of support was overwhelming.

So, she and three fellow education majors – Allison Reuter, Julia Gillespie and Alexa Ahramjian – created a GoFundMe page and sought donations from organizations, including Scholastic, which donated 20 boxes of school supplies, and BookSmiles, which donated over 600 books. They also held book and supply donation drives in other school districts and local businesses.

Education students raise money for Stetser Library
Widener students Melissa Damiani, Allison Reuter, Julia Gillespie and Alexa Ahramjian collected approximately 4,000 books and raised $2,300 for Stetser Elementary School.

In total, they raised $2,300 to buy supplies for teachers and collected approximately 4,000 books.

Next, they needed to find a home for the books – no easy task considering the limited free space in Stetser. Allison Reuter’s father, Bud, created wooden bookshelves that fit precisely into a hallway outside the school’s all-purpose room.

With the books shelved and organized, Stetser could finally say it had a library. The only thing left to do was celebrate with a grand opening.

The Widener students, Stetser community and CETE mentors cut the ribbon on the new library on Nov. 30, as confetti rained down and the children cheered “Go Gators,” in recognition of their mascot.

Each child was given a colored, numbered stick to use as a marker on the library bookshelf when they borrow a book. But, because of the outpouring of support, the children were also allowed to pick three books to keep and store in “home library” boxes they decorated that day in class.

“Reading is the foundation of education,” Reuter said. “I think it is important for all children to have books to take home.”

Stetser Principal Janet Baldwin said the library is a benefit to the students – both for the access to books and for the lesson they learned from the Widener students.

“It shows the children you can do anything,” Baldwin said. “You have an idea, you work hard, you pull people together, and you make it happen. Those are the skills we are building in our children. Widener has been and continues to be a vital partner in building success for our children.”

For Damiani and Reuter, the experience at Stetser – especially the way they were embraced as family – will stay with them as they embark on their future teaching careers.

“A library is a small part in such a wonderful and impactful school, and we’re forever grateful for the opportunities that Stetser Elementary School has offered us,” Damiani said.

For more coverage, read the Delaware County Daily Times or watch ABC Action News.

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