Eleanor C. Emlen Elementary School in West Mount Airy, like too many Philadelphia public schools, did not have a library.
It had an empty room, and money to hire a librarian, but it didn’t have books. Luckily, the school also had a principal, Richard Raisman, who understands the importance of books in kids’ lives.
In the fall of 2009, Raisman recruited Jessica Kahn, professor of education at Chestnut Hill College, to spearhead a crusade to find the books to fill that empty room at Emlen.
“I became obsessed,” Kahn says. “When I was in elementary school, I loved the school library. It’s where I became a lifelong reader. I wanted these children to have that opportunity as well.”
Kahn started with bake sales and similar fundraisers, but it was clear much more was needed. She asked the CHC community for donations of new and gently used books.
By last summer, she had collected 10,000 books from individuals, schools, clubs and businesses in the Philadelphia region and beyond. By July, she and a staff of enthusiastic volunteers had catalogued, labeled and shelved 7,000 of them.
Now, kids at Emlen visit their library once a week, each picking out a book to take home to read.
“That’s what makes a child a reader,” Kahn says. “That’s what makes them successful learners.”
Kahn has started the process again at Fitler Academics Plus, a school in lower Germantown serving grades 1-8. If you’d like to help by donating new or gently used books, you can drop them off at Fitler (140 W. Seymour St.) during school hours or at St. Joseph Hall on the Chestnut Hill campus anytime. You can contact Dr. Kahn via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Judy Weightman on Twitter at @JudyWEdu.