WATCH VIDEO: Library books from closed school en route to Native American children – New Castle News
The closing of the Pulaski Elementary School in June has turned into an unexpected blessing for a Native American school out West.
Next weekend, Wilmington Area Schools administrator Ken Jewell will drive a truckload of 3,500 duplicate, unneeded books from the former Pulaski school library to the Wolf Creek Elementary School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
The delivery will mean that the 300 students there will have a school library for the first time. Until now, they have only had a few books in each classroom for extra reading.
A chance meeting on a summer trip inspired Jewell to arrange the donation.
“I was on a vacation to the badlands in South Dakota with my family,” said Jewell, the district’s director of student affairs and operations. He met a Native American park ranger who happened to be a teacher at Wolf Creek. They talked about their respective schools and Jewell was surprised by what she told him about the poverty at Wolf Creek, where 99 percent of the students are Native American and below the federal poverty level.
Curious, Jewell, his wife Jen and children Matthew and Maggie took a drive around the reservation.
“We were shocked by the poverty and lack of resources,” he said, recalling the disrepair of the homes and the lack of businesses.
And while the Wilmington district has its own financial difficulties, Jewell was saddened to learn that the poverty is severe at Wolf Creek, and students had only a few books in each classroom for outside reading.
So he asked permission of Wilmington school officials to donate books to them from the Pulaski Elementary library, which closed in June. And he got to work, contacting Wolf Creek School principal Jeaninne Metzger to make arrangements.
Jewell said any books donated in honor of someone will be kept locally, as well as any titles not on the shelves at the Wilmington elementary school. The remaining 3,500 books are duplicates that are not needed in the district.
On Friday, Jewell, creative writing adviser Sally Hiers and 10 students from the high school Creative Writing Club spent the morning carrying thousands of books through the halls of the closed Pulaski school to the cafeteria, where they will be loaded next weekend into a rented truck for the trip.
Jewell will drive the truck to the school 1,500 miles away, accompanied by retired district technology coordinator Sam Mastrian.
“It will be a fabulous legacy,” Jewell told the school board when they met this past Monday.
The books will go to students who otherwise would be unlikely to read popular childhood favorites. And they will go with the heartfelt wishes of some high schoolers who remember the joy that reading brought them in their own elementary days.
Jewell had a brainstorming session with the club members. “They wanted to write notes to put into some of the books for the students to read.”
Katie Magee, a member of the club and a graduate of Pulaski Elementary, was remembering her own childhood as she carried books Friday. “I was really excited to come down here and write the letters,” she said. “I am really excited that these students are going to enjoy these books as much as I did.”
Another club member, Lauren Seelbaugh, said that in her notes, “I told them that these books will help you develop a love of reading, they will help you go far in life, they will open up a lot of opportunities for you.”
Magee said they put the notes into some of the books that were their own favorites, “like American Girl books, Little House on the Prairie series, Brown Bear, the ones we held close to our hearts.”
With each note is a postage paid card that the club members hope the students at Wolf Creek will send back so they can establish an ongoing relationship with them.
The students are not the only ones who want to develop a long-term relationship with the school. Jewell said he hopes to develop a partnership with the school and is thinking about a service program to eventually take high school students to the reservation to do repairs and other type work.
On this trip, costs of the truck rental, tolls, gasoline and any lodging necessary are being paid for by donations.
“I am thankful to those who have so generously supported this project,” he said.
Donors include: Clen-Moore Presbyterian Church, Jen and Rick Conrad, Mary Anne Grubic, Hoyt Foundation, Tawnee and David Hunter, Carl and Nancy Jewell, Matt Maine, Autumn and Bradley Miller, New Wilmington Presbyterian Church, Marc and Susan Peoples, Pulaski United Methodist Church, Dick and Shirley Snyder, Elizabeth and Frank Verterano, Victory Christian Center and Wilmington Area School District faculty, staff, and administration
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