When schools closed across the board in March, children immediately felt the loss of a storied amenity of youth and education — their school libraries.
That loss became especially pronounced for dual immersion students, whose days spent learning and conversing in their target languages are frequently complemented by reading literature in that language. Unless individual schools were able to organize the resources for a book drop-off system, there was no access to those free books.
Franklin Elementary School — home to Spanish, German, Italian and French dual immersion in Glendale Unified School District — found a way around that, thanks to its school foundation.
“Having access to books in those target languages is important,” explained Elizabeth Vitanza, a Franklin parent who is a French teacher at the Marlborough School in Los Angeles. “With COVID, and moving to distance learning this year, I was thinking in the spring, ‘How do we get books to these kids?’ Our kids would bring home different books every week.
“On my street, there are quite a few little free libraries,” she explained, “so I wondered, ‘Why couldn’t we have those at the school?’”
And now they have them at the school. Four, in fact, one for each target language. The Franklin Elementary Foundation helped plan, fund and construct the four little free libraries outside of the school. They were recently completed.
“Being a French teacher, I understand the single best thing for a child is to read to them, or have them read to you,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what language. You don’t need apps; you don’t need all that fancy stuff. You just need books.”
Vitanza said GUSD was happy to let the project happen and to let the parent-led group take the lead on making it happen.
“It was really great that we were able to do this fairly autonomously and how responsive our school was and Glendale Unified was,” she said.
The foundation lucked out a bit upon learning that one of the school’s parents, Giulliano Prietto, ran a contractor company, Prietto Engineering, and was willing to donate supplies and labor to the project. In a phone interview, Prietto affectionately called the little free libraries “my little pride and joy.”
“Conceptually, it looks like a modern house with a green roof,” he explained. “I really wanted to tie in the old, the new, the Green Grants, everything the school stood for and give the school a sense of pride. The teachers are just so amazing at this school, so I felt like my donation needed to be on par with the dedication and level that the teachers give back.”
These aren’t your typical little free libraries, either. Prietto said he used a steel beam embedded into a concrete case as a post for the structures, on top of which are another concrete block, reinforced with rebar and wrapped with steel plates welded together to form the structure.
The clear vinyl panels that make the doors were apparently the biggest holdup: businesses all over Southern California clamored for them as they set up partitions for coronavirus compliance.
“Every inch of it is welded together so that no water gets into it,” Prietto said. “The rooftop is waterproof, with three layers of liquid waterproofing.”
That last part will come in handy, as each library has a planter box built on top of it, an homage to the school’s reputation as a Green Grants school.
“We have four varieties of drought-tolerant plants on there,” Prietto said. “When the kids come back, they have classes that are for gardening and things like that, so I thought this could be a good project on rotation.”
Vitanza said people are free to contribute any of their appropriate foreign language books to the libraries, as children are free to take from them as they need to. She added that the development represents an equity piece for the school, as it will make more available the books crucial to dual language immersion.
“This is a pandemic-induced initiative, but it’s something that will long outlast the pandemic,” she said.