Feature stories

Grant central station

New librarian gets funding to bring improvements to Bronx school

Jonathan Fickles
The schoolwide birthday celebration features hats from Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in th Jonathan Fickles

The schoolwide birthday celebration features hats from Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat,” as modeled by Wong (rear, right) during Read Across America Week.

Everyone digs in to get the school garden — financed by a winning grant — growin Jonathan Fickles

Everyone digs in to get the school garden — financed by a winning grant — growing in time for a fall harvest.

She’s the librarian in the Cat in the Hat top-hat, the Amelia Bedelia bonnet or the evening gown distributing invitations to the Ambassador Ball to students for their reading achievements.

She’s the traffic cop directing students, teachers and parents in and out of the school library where she hosts around-the-calendar celebrations of books and literacy, highlighting and tying books to national holidays, authors’ birthdays, ecology, technology and anything and everything she can think of to entice young readers and enrich the curriculum.

Tracey Wong’s goal when she arrived a year ago at PS 54 in Bedford Park, the Bronx, was “to make reading fun and cool and to make the library a hub of activity and a center of learning and collaboration,” she said.

She’s met her goal and much more.

Wong revived a library that had been closed for more than a year and also brought in more than $40,000 in grants.

“She’s got the grant bug,” Chapter Leader Lauren Weintraub said. “She’s always trying to get more for the school.”

That money has funded six Mac desktop computers and six iPads and laptops for the library, which already had three computers. It also paid for a full Fountas & Pinell Leveled Literacy collection for guided reading for at-risk readers.

Six 3rd- to 5th-grade students got to see “The Lion King” on Broadway for their essays titled “Why I Should Be Selected,” a competition judged by older students. She also helped the school acquire $1,000 for gymnasium equipment and an extensive community garden, and there were lots of giveaways for families attending family reading nights.

With the new library equipment she has created an up-to-date resource center that provides open time for both parents and students to access the latest technology in a neighborhood where many homes lack even basic technology.

“If you want something for your kids,” she said, “there is something out there.”

Wong gave a workshop on grant writing for PS 54 teachers and offered to help anyone who wanted to give grant writing a try.

She recommends starting at DonorsChoose.org, “where you will find anything you can imagine,” she said. “And once you start applying, grant sources will begin coming to you.”

Fourth-grader Lashon Bonaventure (front, left) appears with financier Warren BufJonathan FicklesFourth-grader Lashon Bonaventure (front, left) appears with financier Warren Buffet (rear) and other national competition winners on his all-expense paid trip to Nebraska.

Through an AdVenture Capital GENYOUth grant, 4th-grader Lashon Bonaventure became one of five national finalists to win an expense-paid trip to Nebraska to pitch to billionaire financier Warren Buffet his idea about how to encourage students to adopt healthier eating habits through a school food garden project.

“Tracey’s a go-getter,” Principal Maribelle Nunez-Pardo noted. “She’s made reading a cool thing and supports the curriculum in every way she can.”

To strengthen that support, Wong invited three authors who spoke to students about the skills and importance of writing. She also held a schoolwide celebration of National Digital Learning Day last February, during which teachers at all grade levels participated in ways appropriate to their curriculum focus, using the library and its new technology.

In a collaborative celebration of the book “Purplicious,” the anti-bullying story by Victoria Kahn, staff wore purple and there was even a cake iced in purple for the principal, whose birthday was that day.

Wong was a reading teacher before she earned her school library media specialist degree and began her new career a year ago.

“When I first laid eyes on my future home, it was love at first sight,” she recalled. So she rolled up her sleeves, reopened the shuttered library and began developing the kind of library she had dreamed of: “a learning hub that centers the school’s social and intellectual development as it fosters a community of collaboration.”

Wong is concerned about school libraries’ long-term survival.

“Libraries are so vulnerable to budget cuts and are always the first thing to go, even though studies show that schools with libraries have higher standardized test scores than schools without,” she lamented.

She has yet more improvements planned for the library at PS 54, including creating a “maker space” — a popular new concept to turn libraries into places not just for readers and information gathering but also where visitors can “create, build and craft.”

For that, of course, she will need new tools — and new grants.

 

To keep up with what’s going on at PS 54, check out Miss Wong’s Wonders on her website at mswongswonders.wordpress.com

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