Partnerships with two community members have resulted in Fletcher Elementary School students receiving free winter hats and 24-hour access to free books. The addition of a Little Free Library and the distribution of over 100 hand-knitted hats took place at the school earlier this month. Both were the result of locals who volunteered their time and donated materials to support students at the school.
“I’ve seen them around for years,” Fletcher resident Chris Lenox, who built and installed a Little Free Library at the school, said. “My daughter And I hiked the Long Trail in 2018. There is a Little Free Library at the trail crossing on Route two in Bolton. That was the first time I took advantage of a Little Free Library. I am a scout leader in Cambridge and a member of Rotary in Cambridge and wanted to do something to serve our community in Fletcher.”
The concept of a Little Free Library is a simple one. A small weatherproof box is installed outdoors and patrons can both take and donate books free of charge. The design of the boxes range from simple to elaborate. Wisconsin resident Todd Bol created the first Little Free Library in 2009, sparking a global movement that now includes over 100,000 book-exchange boxes in more than 100 countries worldwide.
“We don’t have a public library in town,” Lenox said. “So, I thought this would be a good way for community members to access books. We all have more stress and worries in our lives now and we need to take care of ourselves and each other. Many activities outside the home have been shuttered or don’t feel safe, but you can still disappear into a good novel. I’ve seen little libraries transformed into food pantries as well.”
Franklin West Supervisory Union, of which Fletcher Elementary is part, has created a set of “Big 4” goals for the 2020-2021 school year, including equity for all. According to third and fourth grade teacher Tracey Godin, the Little Free Library will begin to level the playing field with access to books for all families in a convenient location.
“There can be many roadblocks to families having access to books for children,” Godin said. “Sometimes, books are cost-prohibitive or simply having the time and the means to travel to buy them can be difficult. The Little Free Library is conveniently located at school where families can access it 24-hours a day and all of the books are free. It will go a long way in promoting equitable access to books for our students and the entire community.”
According to the Little Free Library website, littlefreelibrary.org, the world’s largest book-sharing movement has four main goals of supporting literacy, demonstrating a reading lifestyle, forging partnerships with families, and establishing new avenues of community service.
“Academically, children growing up in homes without books are on average three years behind children in homes with lots of books,” according to the organization’s website.
“Having a Little Free Library right in front of our school promotes our belief that literacy is crucially important,” librarian and academic interventionist Rebecca Cardone said. “Having constant access to books for students year-round compliments our school library services and increases access to books in our community which is far from public libraries. By including adult books, the Little Free Library also provides families a chance to model a love of reading and stories.”
Fletcher Elementary is also celebrating a community partnership that, earlier today, saw each student receive a hand-knitted winter hat.
Rose Mathieu is a resident of Four Winds independent living in St. Albans. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Mathieu participated in a knitting group in her community. Even after health guidelines forced the group to stop meeting together in person, Ms. Mathieu continued to make hats at home – one every day – and has created more than 250 knitted hats to donate to local groups. She has donated her wares to the St. Albans City Schools, the WIC supplemental nutrition program for families, Northwestern Counseling and Support Services, and now, she has donated one of her amazing creations for every single student in our school.
“The hats are so beautiful,” third grader George Austin said. “It is a very kind and generous gift that will help keep all of us warm in the wintertime.”
Each Fletcher student wrote Ms. Mathieu a thank-you note using the school’s specially imprinted postcards.
Engaging community partners to support students is also a goal in FWSU’s Action Plan.
“By engaging our incredibly generous and skilled community partners, we increase the resources available to students,” Instructional Coach Denette Locke said. “With these two examples, those resources include books and winter clothing, but the possibilities are endless. Engaged community partners offer invaluable opportunities for our students academically, socially and culturally. Those connections make the world just a little smaller for our students.”
Fletcher Elementary’s Little Free Library is open to the community year-round, seven days a week, at any time. It is located in front of the school’s main entrance. The library is officially chartered and registered with the non-profit organization LittleFreeLibrary.org and is one of only two Little Free Libraries in Franklin County.