When summer rolls around, school libraries usually shut down and go dormant as students go on break — but that’s not the case at Meriwether Lewis Elementary School in Albemarle County.
On Tuesday afternoon, children of various ages were curled up with books, playing games on tablets and eagerly checking out library materials.
“This is this big beautiful space with all of these fabulous things to do … that go unused for the better part of June, July and August,” said Anne Straume, who teaches second and third grade at Meriwether. “We thought, ‘Is there some way we can open this space for them?’”
Each Tuesday, students and their families are welcome to browse and check out library materials at Meriwether.
“Most librarians will shut down their libraries and everything is put away, and you walk in there and this doesn’t look shut down at all,” Straume said.
“We’ve been getting the traffic,” said Librarian Andrea Atkinson. “We were done at 3 o’clock last time, and at quarter to 3 we had 12 people coming in the door and trying to find books and get them checked out.”
The program is in its fourth summer and is supported by the Meriwether PTO. Straume said the rules are a bit more flexible in the summer. Students can check out books for a longer period of time, for example.
“Those old-school traditional rules about libraries are all relaxed — it’s just get the books in hands of kids,” she said.
In addition to books, students have access to tablets and other materials.
“I got to the finish line!” exclaimed William, an incoming kindergartener, as he completed a level of a Lego video game.
He said some of his favorite activities are playing on the tablets and checking out books, especially “Plants vs. Zombies” and horse-related books.
Joseph, a second-grader and William’s older brother, was glued to a book about the popular video game, Minecraft. After flipping through colorful pages about various characters and different components of Minecraft, he switched over to a Disney game on a tablet.
“As a parent, it’s nice because it kind of helps me see what they’re reading and what they like to read and what they’re interested in,” said the brothers’ mother, Jodi, who asked that her last name not be used. “We do that at the public library too — but the school library is always kind of special.”
She said she also appreciates that the summer library hours give students a chance to check out popular books that might be hard to get a hold of during the school year, and also to explore new topics.
“I just think it’s really nice — it’s close by, it’s free, we’re always looking for something to do that’s sort of fun, but keeping their education going,” said Anna Sullivan, whose daughter, May, is heading into second grade. During her time at the library, May came across a book that led Sullivan to recall a book series she used to be familiar with.
“She found a graphic novel from the Babysitters Club, sort of a cartoon version of an old story I used to read,” Sullivan said.
Atkinson said she finds students enjoy using a variety of materials.
“Some days they come in and they want to get on the tablets, they want to use the technology, they want to do the coding, but then other days they want toilet paper tubes and tape and they want to make binoculars or who knows what,” she said. “You just never know … that’s really fun to watch.”
“And they read,” Straume added. “They find a book and they just plop down.”
The program has become something of a tradition at Meriwether.
“The kids ask every year before school gets out, ‘Is it open in the summer? Is it open in the summer?’” said Atkinson. “And they ask for the schedule before they leave in June.”
Meriwether is not the only county elementary school supporting summer reading and library use.
School division spokesman Phil Giaramita said Agnor-Hurt Elementary School sponsors a program at Northside Library on Monday afternoons that students from any schools can attend.
Greer Elementary School also has a program that provides some students with books over the summer, he said.