The story of Astoria School District libraries and libraries across the state has been a distressing one. Schools have been on the chopping block in Oregon and across the nation for years. In 2008, Kate Gohr, Astor Elementary principal recalls, there was no funding. “We cut days in the district, there was no extra money,” she explains. So, library books weren’t top of the list.
As years went by, the books at Astor library and others in the district grew older and out of date. Kate says they knew they had to weed the outdated books, but they had nothing to replace them with. Empty shelves are not appealing in an elementary school library.
Last year David and Cass Kottkamp came to visit Astor. They met with Kate and Tamee Harden, the school librarian, and heard the plight of the media center. “They are very interested in literacy at the schools,” Tamee says. “They want to know what we do for struggling readers, about our curriculum and SMART as well.” Start Making A Reader Today (SMART) is volunteer reader program in the schools to grow confident successful readers.
After the visit, the couple donated $15,000 to Astor library. This generous donation was unexpected. “This was a way that they could directly see the impact of their donation in their community,” Kate explains of the local couple motivations.
Overjoyed and indescribably appreciative of this generous donation, Tamee set to spending the money on books that reflected the students at Astor. Tamee expanded the selection of picture and chapter books at Astor, that serves kindergarteners through second grade students. She provided books that kids could connect with and would pick up. “I judge a book by its cover and so do they,” Kate says laughing. “We are working against a video age, the books have to be fun and interesting so they grab it instead of a tablet.” And they are. Tamee has carefully chosen books that represent children from around the world, minority populations and children confronting issues of stereotyping and bullying as well as the old favorites like Mo Willems.
Then, to the delight and surprise of Astor staff, David and Cass returned this school year and made an additional donation. The generosity of the Kottkamps has allowed Astor library to purchase over 1,500 library bound books so far. These books are made to withstand the wear and tear of many checkouts and lots of love. And not only that, they also donated to Lewis and Clark Elementary School and Astoria Middle School libraries to expand their selection.
In a study conducted by the National Education Agency (NEA) in 2016, the number of books per student in a school library averaged about 22. Before the Kottkamp donations, Astor library contained just 7,000 usable books, about 16 per student. It now houses 8,500 books. The Kottkamps have magnanimously increased the number of books in the library by a third, upping the number per student to 20 books! Staff and students are incredibly thankful.
Last Monday the Kottkamps came for a follow-up meeting with staff when they were met with a surprise. Astor students lined the halls holding book after book bought for the school by the couple. Students proudly shared their favorite stories and thanked the couple for their generosity.”The updated books are a big hit with students and teachers,” Lisa Hankwitz, first grade teacher shares, so the kids had no trouble picking a favorite to talk about with David and Cass.
The Kottkamps have spread their love of literacy around the district, but starting at Astor is important, “If we can get kids ready and loving reading they’ll always read and they’ll be good readers,” Kate explains. “I don’t care about standardized tests, I care about passion for learning.”
And that’s what books do. They inspire children to learn about new topics. They give teachers the right resources to introduce a new subject, and they push students to try harder more complex texts. Having great books makes a difference and thanks to the Kottkamps, Astoria schools have so many more!
If community members are interested in donating to Astor Elementary or other area libraries, library bound books are recommended, due to their lifetime guarantee. Donations can be given in honor or memory of a loved one and a specific title can be chosen or left to the discretion of the school. Each and every donation is important and valuable to libraries.