Members of the Rescue our Librarians Club join La Escuela Fratney Librarian Mayra Negron with their favorite books. Photos by Patti Wenzel

If everybody had the enthusiasm of the elementary students who founded Rescue our Librarians Club, there would never be another mention of cutting the library services or librarians in our schools or communities.

Unfortunately, that enthusiasm isn’t universal. But if these students have their way the status quo will be changing soon.

The RLC was started this spring at La Escuela Fratney (Fratney Street School) after teacher Bob Peterson wrote on his chalkboard that the school’s librarian would be cut as part of the 2010-11 budget shortfall in the Milwaukee Public Schools. His students were crestfallen, since the library at Fratney is central to the curriculum and Librarian Mayra Negron is beloved by the entire student body.

Peterson’s students decided they were going to do something about it. They created the RLC and one girl enlisted her father to design the club’s website to their specifications. The students worked with a representative from Rep. Gwen Moore’s office to create petitions for adults and fellow students. They researched the importance of libraries and librarians to the educational process and presented their evidence to the Milwaukee School Board during the public budget hearings held during May.

“It’s good to have a librarian to teach us and to show us [that] learning can be fun,” club member Anneke said.

Joe, another club member,  said without libraries in the schools the students would lose resources, computers and books. “A lot of kids (in Milwaukee) need those things and they can’t get them at home.”

Negron is visibly proud of her students and the members of the RLC. She involves them in material choices and allows students to work the circulation desk and restock the shelves.  She also works closely with all of the Fratney School teachers to ensure that the library has books and materials that tie in with class curricula. And since Fratney is an English-Spanish bilingual school, Negron has worked hard to have a complete English and Spanish elementary library.

Negron and her students were relieved in May when Gov. Jim Doyle signed legislation increasing the size of SAGE(Student Achievement Guarantee in Education program) classrooms from 15 students to 1 teacher to 18:1. This allowed Fratney to tap into more SAGE funding, freeing up money for Negron’s salary and benefits. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of smaller class sizes in the early elementary grades.

Even though Negron’s job is safe for the next school year, the RLC is not stopping in their quest to build awareness for libraries and librarians. They have lobbied Moore, who is developing an amendment to the No Child Left Behind bill which would provide federal funding for librarians and art, music and gym teachers. They have met with Alberto Retana, the U.S. Department of Education’s Director of Community Outreach, presenting him with copies of their petitions to save librarians.

The students are also continuing their petition drive with an online form for adults and printable forms students can circulate among their peers at school. So far they have collected over 800 student signatures in their mission to save libraries and librarians in MPS.

Tonieh Wellan, an adult member of RLC, is impressed with the children’s efforts and would like to see a Children’s Educational Bill of Rights that would ensure access to libraries and arts education.

She described MPS schools with rooms filled with books and resources designated as libraries, but empty of children because funding only allows a librarian in the building once per week. This is a trend that is continuing according to MPS  –  in 2007 there were 52 full-time equivalent librarians in the district, today there are only 42. And the number will continue to fall if librarians and their impact on reading proficiencies are not promoted.

“Librarians are teachers too,” she said. “They serve as a resource for other teachers and the children.”

While reading scores, the ability to use a library and budget woes are known to the students who founded the RLC, they all agree on one basic thing.

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