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Laura Antolin, the children’s outreach librarian at Evanston Public Library, drags crates of books from her car on a dolly into the Oakton Elementary School gymnasium, three huge crates stuffed with hard covers and paperbacks.
“At the beginning of the year I bring too many books and figure out what they like,” she says.
The Oakton Y.O.U. program is just one stop in the week for Ms. Antolin as she works to bring the Library to the Evanston community, extending its reach and resources. The Library never has been one confined to its facility in downtown Evanston. Bringing programming and resources to various settings is crucial to meeting the diverse needs and expectations of the community. In a week, Ms. Antolin covers a lot of ground to connect with Evanston children.
“[These visits] provide the children a lot of choice,” says Y.O.U. Coordinator Emily Fishman. “A lot of the kids read the same books month after month, so they can talk about it with each other. There is a lot of book talk happening between the students. I like to make sure the staff members are getting engaged in what the students are reading, as well,” she adds.
Making the After-School Connection
Ms. Antolin makes regular after-school program stops. At Dawes Elementary School, she works closely with Y.O.U. Manager Simone Hampton.
“The Library coming has been a staple in this program,” Ms. Hampton says. “It helps promote that resource in the community. A lot of our youth don’t get to go to the library with their families. Having the Library come to them just works that much better.
“For Laura to come in to our space makes a world of difference,” she adds.
Sometimes it is a morning visit, as with the Doorway to Learning daycare program at the Joseph E. Hill Administration Building. Sarah Sheikh is a coordinator there helping wrangle 10 children under the age of 3.
“It stays in the community, not with someone random from outside of the community,” she says. “Laura also comes in and does parent classes to expose them to where they can get resources.”
Play Is Work
On this morning, Ms. Antolin and Ms. Sheikh are pretending with the children to make and eat pizza. Playing pizza is fun and builds key early literacy skills
The Library developed a curriculum called Literacy Education at Play (LEAP). It focuses on building those early math, language and writing skills through play, skills the children will need when they get to pre-school.
“It is a sequential thing and narrative, too,” Ms. Antolin says. “They are gaining plenty of skills before they even know they are learning them. We are starting them as early as we can.”
Evening Family Programs for STEM Learning
The Evanston Public Library promotes a vision of developing literacy of all kinds. That plays out through evening programming, as well. On a Wednesday night at the Main Library, 10 children aged 6 to 10 years and their parents are crowded around Jason Coleman as part of the STEMeX program.
Mr. Coleman, a mechanical engineer by trade who left corporate America to found Project SYNCERE, a STEM-focused non-profit based in Chicago.
“When I was these kids’ age, I had some similar opportunities at the Museum of Science and Industry, but I had no clue as to what engineering was,” he says, adding, “I want them to get excited about what engineers do.”
Partnerships Leverage the Work
The STEMeX program is possible through a partnership with Loyola University Chicago, where the program was designed, and Chicago Children’s Museum.
“In addition to hands-on activity, each program features a narrative from experts like Jason focused on how they got interested and involved in a STEM career,” Ms. Antolin says. “The children need to see there are lots of different entry points to science.”
The program also helps Loyola psychology researchers understand how storytelling helps motivate child learning and how interacting with family during that learning impacts efficacy.
EPL Programs Support Family STEM Learning
One week highlights the different forums Evanston Public Library engages children, as well as the different resources brought to them. From morning to night, children’s outreach efforts pack the week.
Evanston Public Library reaches children outside the library walls in on-going partnerships with more than a dozen early-learning and after-school venues.