Joel McGuire, the library media specialist at Thomas Stone Elementary School, had to use what he could to engage his student’s imaginations when it came to reading them stories or involving them in activities.
The library had a tile floor with no carpet, old chairs, tables that were tilting over, beat up drywall, a bland white paint job and out-of-date books that were falling apart, he said.
But that’s no longer the case at the Mount Rainier school.
The library underwent a renovation in recent months that included 2,000 new books, carpeting, padded furniture and 10 new iPads for the school’s 733 students.
The renovations came as part of Target Corporation’s School Library Makeover Program, which seeks to renovate schools libraries in low-income areas to encourage reading.
Thomas Stone is one of 32 schools nationwide — and the sole school in Prince George’s County — to receive a library makeover paid for by the retailer. The plan to paint the walls, replace the shelves and carpeting and add new books and furniture started in August and was completed on Oct. 24.
“It’s going to take my instruction to another level,” McGuire said of the library renovation. “Before, I had limited resources here. I was having to bring in some technology, but now it is all here.”
As part of the project, a monthly food pantry, which will be located in the school’s cafeteria and stocked with items donated by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Martha’s Table will provide food for parents of the school’s students throughout the school year. The pantry will be paid for by Target.
The pantry is needed because more than 80 percent of the school’s students are on free or reduced lunch plans, principal Helda Morad said. On Oct. 23, a female student in the fifth grade passed out due to hunger and was sent to the hospital, she said.
Bill Halamandaris, the co-founder and chairman of The Heart of America Foundation, which partnered with Target on the project, said it was important to include the food pantry as part of the package, because doing so helps to ensure that students remain healthy, which is important to learning.
“It goes together,” he said. “You can’t read if you are hungry. If you can make sure that students have something to eat, then they are more likely to have energy to read and learn in school.”
Halamandaris’ group, which is based in Washington D.C. and works to promote literacy among children nationwide, managed the contractors and developers for the makeover.
Denise Adkins, the store team leader at the Target at The Mall at Prince George’s, in Hyattsville, said the total costs of the renovation still are being tabulated, adding that such projects usually cost about $200,000 to $250,000.
Thomas Stone’s selection for the program was based on its perceived need and the level of engagement of its administrators, Halamandaris said.
Officials associated with the school applied in January for the renovation and were selected in March, he said.
“This is amazing on so many levels,” Morad said. “It is so in line with our vision of preparing students for college and careers and making sure we are building character and academic excellence.”
Hundreds of students and parents lined up outside the school on Oct. 24, where they registered to get seven free books per student and waited to take a tour of the new library.
After the tour, they were able to select 22 pounds of food per child who attends the school at tables manned by volunteers. The food included nonperishables such as pasta, spaghetti and canned goods, as well fresh fruits and vegetables.
Mount Rainier resident Patricia Mujem, 40, said she was excited that her twin fifth grade sons, Carlton and Carlson Mujem, had a library with exciting new features.
Carlton, 9, said he was happy that he could use the new iPads in the library and that there were new books that he could read.
“It’s really awesome we can read books and go into there and use our imaginations,” he said. “We could enter college, because the work could not be done without books. Reading is important to get through all the subjects.”