Neighbors Restore Neighborkids’ Opportunity to Borrow School Library Books
(Sarasota, Florida) – Neighbors of Central-Cocoanut along with several members of the local region have contributed $246.36 to pay off neighborkids’ library fines so that all children who live in Central-Cocoanut and attend Gocio Elementary are once again able to check out books from the school library.
The contributions are part of a broader resident-led effort to figure out how Central-Cocoanut can become the Sarasota neighborhood that is best at reading, and the first neighborhood in the United States where all children are experiencing overall thriving in terms of being happy and emotionally grounded, loved and loving, learning, and contributing.
As individuals contributed through Sarasota Community Studio to pay off neighborkids’ library fines, people were asked why they contributed and why they believed this effort was important. Responses included the following:
Craig Jones, neighborkid, age 11: “It’s important so that kids can start back reading.”
Queen Martin, neighborhood grandmother: “I think there’s a lot of kids who are into reading – kids just love to read – it’s to keep them motivated. They need that, you know? If you stop them from reading, how are they supposed to get through? How are they going to take the test if they don’t know how to read? They’ve got to learn to read first, and you’re going to stop them from getting the books?”
Candice Frankel, neighborhood mother: “I think there should be a better, more constructive way for kids to pay off library fines, like volunteering, especially if parents don’t have the money to pay off the fines.”
Jennifer Black, Fort Myers resident and infant / early childhood mental health specialist: “I feel strongly that associated shame, hurt and anger with a library is just wrong. Shame as a teaching tool is just wrong. Penalizing a child because their parent isn’t able or willing to offer the money is also hard to stomach. Books are filled with so much joy and learning and the possibility of creating wonderment – all children should have access, even if it means losing some books.”
Adam Tebrugge, Sarasota resident and local attorney: “I did not want to see library fines affect a child’s ability to read books. Reading is the key skill to all future success.”
The effort to pay off the library fines took 5 ½ months. Neighbors first learned about the book borrowing dilemma through the Neighborkid Talent Squad. This group was established in August 2013 through Sarasota Community Studio as a partnership with Central-Cocoanut neighborkids and their families. The purpose of the Squad is to clarify children’s everyday experience over the course of the school year and to strengthen collaboration among home, neighborhood and school. The hope is to discern what it will take for kids to be optimally supported across settings and to take just-in-time action in order for them to learn and thrive to their fullest potential.
In November 2013 conversations with the Gocio teacher of one child participating in the Talent Squad alerted families and fellow neighbors to the situation. She noted that restoring the child’s ability to check out materials from the school library might be one way to increase the child’s enthusiasm.
Sarasota Community Studio followed up by contacting the Gocio Elementary librarian to clarify the book borrowing policy and to find out how much money was owed, and how many Central-Cocoanut neighborkids needed to have their ability to borrow books restored. Initially the school indicated that this information could not be provided, so Sarasota Community Studio then assisted the principal in connecting with the Information Technology Department of the Sarasota County School Board to obtain a list of those students residing in Central-Cocoanut. The School Board provided this information in December so that the school librarian could identify which Gocio students were Central-Cocoanut neighborkids and tally the library fines for the neighborhood.
Three months later in March 2014, Gocio Elementary provided the information to Sarasota Community Studio. Gocio reported that 18 of the 74 Central-Cocoanut neighborkids attending Gocio were unable to check out materials from the school library due to a total of $246.36 in fines. This meant that one quarter of all neighborkids attending Gocio were unable to borrow books.
Sarasota Community Studio shared this information with Central-Cocoanut neighbors by email and the broader community through Facebook. Within one week, children, adult neighbors, and several members of the surrounding region had contributed the full amount needed to pay off the fines. They also generated ideas about alternative approaches to address the challenges of book lending and borrowing.
Sarasota Community Studio contacted Gocio to inform the school that the total amount of money owed had been raised. The school librarian expressed appreciation and then a letter was sent out by Gocio to all parents asking them to pay the fines for their children’s overdue and missing books. There was no mention that the full amount had already been raised by neighbors. The letter also stated that until these fines were paid, the suspension of children’s borrowing ability would carry over to the following school year and to other schools if the children transferred.
Sarasota Community Studio followed up with Gocio to ask for an updated tally of the total amount due to restore the borrowing ability of all Central-Cocoanut neighborkids. One month later Gocio replied with an updated amount of $179.34 and on that day, May 7, Sarasota Community Studio delivered the funds to Gocio, with the remaining contributions reserved for any future fines accrued by neighborkids. The principal replied the following day to confirm that the borrowing ability of all Central-Cocoanut children attending Gocio was now restored, and that children therefore would be able to borrow books for the one week that remained before the library closed for the end of the school year. She also confirmed that Gocio faculty would be happy to accept an invitation from neighborkids, parents, fellow neighbors, and concerned members of the broader community to address the dilemma of library lending and borrowing in the future.
When kids playing after school at Mary Dean Park in Central-Cocoanut learned that the ability to borrow library books was restored for all neighborkids attending Gocio they fist pumped with excitement, and neighbors are now looking forward to seeing what the kids bring home from school and share on the block as the reading efforts continue.