By Justin Much
Nourishment is a vital element when it comes to education, just as education is vital for overall well being. Western Oregon University associate professor of literacy education Tracy Smiles is acutely aware of that balance.
“The three things we know kids need are health care, good nutrition and books,” Smiles said recently, citing the work of literacy and language educator and researcher Stephen Krashen, who in turn points out how research upon research affirms an inescapable fact: poverty affects learning; poverty and lower test scores go hand in hand.
As someone whose life’s work revolves around education, Smiles understands the challenges involved. From a macro viewpoint, she would like to see every issue affecting education (and poverty) addressed; but as a realist her focus is aimed at what she can tackle locally.
As it turns out, that’s quite a bit, and this week the Falls City Elementary School library will be the beneficiary. Smiles serves as the chair of the Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts Selection Committee (NCBLA). That’s a responsibility that literally sends hundreds of volumes of books through her hands annually. The seven-member national NCBLA committee is charged with perusing these works and making recommendations for books as “Notable” in that they are preferred for elementary and middle school English and language arts classes. Publishers want to see their books fall into Smiles’ hands. Consequently, a basement storage room in the Education Building on the WOU campus is filling up with books. At one point Smiles wondered what she was going to do with that mounting pile, numbering more than 2,000 texts.
A student teacher, Ally Hindle, who did practicum work in Falls City had an idea. She suggested that they could use a few books over there. She was right.
“The Falls City Elementary Library holds approximately 5,500 volumes,” said Holly Kraus, who serves as the school’s librarian as well as the city’s at the Wagner Community Library. “There has not been a book budget for several years so all the books in the library have been donated, many of which were discards from other school districts.”
When Kraus took on her librarian’s tasks a year and a half ago, she found boxes of decades-old books stowed away. The lack of a book budget evinced itself in the age and condition of the books on hand.
“When I get the books and see exactly what there is, I am going to take books that are old and beat up and find a new home for those,” Kraus said. “Since they (the donations) are quality books, ones that companies are trying to get awards with, we know they will be useful here.”
Kraus said the donation will serve her quest in improving the library by bolstering the reading material for the district’s 108 pre-kindergarten through 8th grade students.
“Now we have a real decent library,” she said. “With this gift, it will be wonderful.”
The physical act of moving the books will be achieved this week by a number of student volunteers and Smiles husband’s pickup truck. While Falls City provides a welcome home for those books, Smiles emphasizes that opportunities to read benefit society at large, an irony in the face of the fact that in many areas – Salem included — general budget trends indicate reduced library hours and cuts in resources.
“Significant to us all, I think, is the importance of providing quality books to children and adolescents everywhere— investing in libraries, which sadly have had their budgets slashed,” she said. “The opportunity to put beautiful new books in the hands of the children of a (financially constrained) community like Falls City thrills me to no end.”
Those thrills likely won’t end there.
“The kids coming to the library will love to get their hands on something new,” Kraus said.