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Teaching children the joy reading

If you think children don't read, you've never seen children lined up outside the Paget Primary School library on a Monday afternoon, desperately waiting for the room to open.

Even when the library isn't officially open they often sneak inside to hug library organiser Alice Carr and pepper her with questions about the books.

Over the last decade Mrs Carr, a retired Reading Clinic tutor, has helped ten government primary schools to set up or reorganise their school libraries. The Bermuda Reading Association recently recognised her with the Literacy Advocacy Award for 2013.

Mrs Carr's work at Paget Primary started fairly quietly when a deputy principal asked her to come in and work with a group of children at the school who were having reading difficulties.

“As I was working with these kids I kept bringing in my own books to read to them,” she said. “Then I started coming in at the lunch hour. Kids started bringing their friends. I kept bringing in more books for them.”

At Christmas she and her husband, John, donated a Christmas tree, and put books under the tree.

“I wanted them to see that books could be gifts,” she said.

Noticing a certain literary hunger in the children, she asked to see the school library and was shown a dusty room being used as junk storage. At first, she brought in her own books to put in this space. Then, for her 55th birthday, her husband threw her a party and raised $10,000 to buy books for the library.

Since that time the Carrs have raised even more money to buy books for the children, sometimes dipping into their own pockets. Since the first reorganisation was more than ten years ago, the library at Paget Primary recently had another overhaul. The government replaced the floors and window shades, and a local company donated colourful beanbags for the children to sit on. The library is now dedicated to former student Malcolm Outerbridge who was murdered. Mr Outerbridge's picture hangs in the library, and his mother hopes to soon come in and read with the children.

“We always try to put new books in the library,” said Mrs Carr. “We want the children to see that they deserve that. We tried collecting second hand books but they were usually not in very good condition. But if anyone gives us second hand books, we always hand them out to the children to take home. I have never thrown a book away in my life.”

The Paget Primary School library has books not just for the children but also for teachers. They are also currently raising funds to buy books for a group of students with autism.

“One thing we are lacking is the Destiny Library Manager computer programme,” said Mrs Carr. “That would allow us to keep track of the books more easily. At the moment, everything has to be written down by hand, which takes time. There aren't any librarians in the government primary school system so we rely on volunteers. There are always volunteer opportunities if people are interested.”

Mrs Carr believes that there is a definite correlation between literacy rates and the presence of school libraries.

“When we first did the Northlands Primary school library I worked with a primary four class,” she said. “What we saw was amazing. There was one young man who was tested at the beginning of school. His reading scores were quite low. Let's say they were 100. The only intervention that happened for him was that we had books he wanted to read. His teacher took he and his class to the library every day. At the end of the year his reading level was over 700. The only thing that happened was he was in the library every day. That is why I believe without any question that it works.”

In addition to helping Paget Primary right now, she is also volunteering at Victor Scott Primary. The school recently gutted their library and bought new library books. The Fairmont Hamilton Princess donated a new carpet for the room. The books were purchased with the help of the Madeline Joell Scholarship and also kind benefactor in the community.

The children at Paget Primary are wildly enthusiastic and line up all the way down the hall when the library is open. When the Diary of a Wimpy kid series by Jeff Kinney came out 25 copies were purchased and loaned out in an instant. Mrs Carr collected five pages of waiting list for the book.

“Children read, unless they are having difficulty,” she said. “I believe from the bottom of my heart that libraries work. I also believe there are a lot of people out there who would be thrilled to work in libraries but just don't know how to do it. In which case they can get a hold of me at carr@northrock.bm and I will teach them.”

Some of the students have library cards for the Youth Library in town, but some parents struggle to get their children to town on a Saturday, especially if they live at the extreme ends of the Island.

“It can be very hard for parents in Somerset,” Mrs Carr said. “And many parents work on the weekends. It is a great resource if the school has a library that their children can use.”

For her kindness and hard work, the children repay her with hugs and their enthusiasm for reading.

“You don't get anything better than a hug,” she said. “I couldn't imagine doing anything else with my life.”

Paget primary school volunteer Librarian Alice Carr and library assistant Mellissa Weekes. Mrs Carr received the Bermuda Library Association Literacy Advocacy for 2013. Photo David Skinner

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Published September 25, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 25, 2013 at 9:09 am)

Teaching children the joy reading

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