On the first Monday of August last year, the school in the small rural community of Xejolon opened the doors of their school library to students for the first time. The library is set up in a small classroom with a few shelves of books, displays organized into themes and a reading corner. It is a modest space but a big accomplishment for the school of 200 students and six teachers.
Libraries are rare in Guatemalan schools like Xejolon. Most school have far too few books and the teachers often have little training or experience with basics of running a library, such as categorizing books or book lending. But a library is a valuable resource for students who are learning to read. It provides a space where they can explore and discover new books and spend time outside of class reading for pleasure.
The new library in Xejolon is the result of the hard work and enthusiasm of Blanca Tzirin Chicol who, in addition to teaching first grade, is also in charge of the school’s reading committee.
Blanca says that she and the principal had wanted to set up a library for students for some time but never had enough books or space available in the school to open a library before.
“The books we had were very old,” she says. “And we didn’t have any ideas about how to start a library because we had never received any training.”
In addition to running workshops and and coaching sessions with teachers, Child Aid’s team of trainers work closely with schools to help them set up important literacy programs like libraries, classroom reading corners and book clubs. The goal is to build a culture of reading and literacy within the school so that students have many opportunities to read throughout the day.
Thanks to the hundreds of new books provided by Child Aid and the support and encouragement of literacy trainer Marilena Ixen, Blanca and her principal decided earlier this year that they had what they needed to get to work.
Blanca spent several weeks planning and preparing to open the library. She organized and labeled the books, classifying them by theme and reading levels. Using cardboard boxes donated by the teachers, she created shelves and displays so the books for each topic could seen by students and be easily accessible.
Blanca says she wants the library to be a pleasant and comfortable place for reading for students. She added a reading corner and a games corner to the library and invites students to come during recess to read and play.
She also hopes that the library will become a resource for other teachers, encouraging them to come to the library to find new titles to integrate into their lessons.
“I’ve done all of this because I know that children love books,” says Blanca. “I can see it in the huge smiles on the face of every child that reads a book. I am convinced that only through reading will children develop different skills, since books are like a magical world that invites them to imagine and dream new things.”