Dramatic makeover unveiled at Sheridan Elementary library

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October 11, 2010
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch
Principal Al Pitt had an eye-opening encounter shortly after starting his new job at Sheridan Elementary School this fall. It started with a basic instruction: he encouraged the children to read at least 20 minutes every night at home.

“Read what?” asked one student. Pitt was shocked to learn that some of the kids didn’t have a single children’s book at home.

Now, students have no excuse not to read. Sheridan sent them home last month with seven free books apiece. And the library is now the school’s major attraction. It’s totally renovated with 2,000 new books, comfy armchairs and new computers. The makeover comes thanks to Target Corp. and the Heart of America, a partnership that has renovated 32 schools across the country this year.

District administrators encouraged Sheridan to apply for the library makeover based on its below-par reading levels and high number of free and reduced-price lunches.

Sheridan is home to 650 students in kindergarten through 8th grade, and it’s an arts magnet for all of Minneapolis. Children start learning to play stringed instruments in kindergarten, and the arts bleed into every subject of study. In math class, for example, children create art projects using numbers, and they handle geometric shapes to learn about symmetry.

Media Specialist Ardella Lagerquist, commonly known as “Mrs. L,” called the old library a “barren wasteland.” Some of the books were falling apart and contained copyrights from the 1960s. She packed up 28 boxes of outdated books and videos, and she chose several hundred of the new books herself.

 “We have enough new books that every student could check out three before they would be handled a second time,” she said.

The renovation includes a classroom space fronted by a Promethean board, which allows the teacher to jot handwritten notes on a computer desktop that students can see projected onto the wall. The teacher can even hand out little clickers to the kids and give them quizzes similar to a pub trivia game.

One of the second-grade classes helped design their “dream library” last year and chose the library’s neon green and blue accents. (Target designers were reportedly excited to work with colors other than the pervasive “Target Red.”) Artwork by Northeast artist Josie Lewis greets students as they walk into the library — it’s a big 3D sunburst with tiny pictures of Sheridan kids embedded in bright layers.

Target spent an estimated $200,000 on the renovation, with work performed by 200 Target volunteers and other partners like Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos.

Target recently announced that it is pouring more of its hefty charitable giving into child literacy work. The company has already spent $7 million on school library makeovers in 2010 — two schools in South Minneapolis have benefited from the program as well.

Angie Halamandaris, co-founder of the Heart of America, said reading is the key skill that children need to make a difference in their educational lives. According to the organization, children in poverty often have no more than two age-appropriate books at home. That’s in sharp contrast to middle-class children, who reportedly own up to 50 books, and wealthy children, who own up to 200 books.

“If you don’t have updated books in the media center, then how do you have the tools you need to learn in life?” Halamandaris said.

Sheridan’s new library resources don’t stop with the children, either. Parents can use the computers to write resumes or look for jobs, and they can even browse a shelf of books on parenting.

Adults could see Sheridan become a bigger presence in the community. The school added an extra kindergarten class to handle a boom in enrollment. Over the summer, Shuga Records and the 331 Club hosted a fundraiser that benefited the school, and Principal Pitt is looking for more ways to connect to the Northeast arts and business community.

Community members got a good look at the school on Sept. 17, when they filled the library for its grand opening. Halamandaris said some students were so excited they started jumping up and down.

“The library should be the heart and soul of a school,” she said. “I told the media specialist, ‘You’re going to be pretty popular.’”

Sheridan Global Arts & Communications School
1201 University Ave. NE