The students of Steins Pillar Elementary do not have their own school library, so they take monthly field trips to the Crook County Library

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - Fourth grade instructor Jahnie Hellickson helps students Zachary Effingham (left) and Syris Smith with some library books in the children's section of the Crook County Library.

On a sunny afternoon, the eager faces of fourth graders from Steins Pillar Elementary were visible as they turned the corner and came up the sidewalk to Crook County Library.

Although library time might seem ordinary and routine to many, these students were unmistakably jubilant to be visiting their county public library. Joined by Academic Coach Sarah Klann, and fourth grade instructor, Jahnie Hellickson, the group went straight to the children's section of the library.

Once per month, the Crook County School District (CCSD) transportation department partners with Steins Pillar teachers to do a curbside pickup to take students in grades kindergarten through second grade to the library. They wait until they finish and bring them back to school. Third through fifth grade walk with their teachers to the library.

"It's really important to me that kids know the community and the resources and that they develop a sense of ownership and pride in the community of Prineville," explained Klann.

She added that the school developed a once-per-month routine to ensure that the students could access the library on a regular basis. During the first year of COVID, they had book boxes dropped off at the school, due to guidelines and restrictions of COVID. Since Steins Pillar is a new school, they do not have an in-school library, partially because of lack of space and partially because the cost of starting a new library is expensive.

Jennifer Fischer, the children's services librarian at the Crook County Library, greeted the students as they entered the children's section. She explained the process of checking out books and getting a library card, and the different sections in the library. For many students, she is the first point of contact in a library setting.

"The thing I really like about having students from the school come down — especially at Steins Pillar — they do not have a library, so I am glad the public library can be their school library as well. It is also awesome to see all the kids getting excited about reading," said Fischer.

She added that since COVID, parents have worried about their students staying up to date in subjects like reading, math and science.

"I think being able to see that we are promoting reading in a way that makes kids excited about reading — not just to read chapter books, but also comic books and graphic novels —is really important for building that lifelong love of reading and learning," she concluded.

The first year of COVID, the Steins Pillar staff had to think outside the box to access library books. Because it is a new school and they had space constraints, they relied on the public library for books for the students.

"With Steins Pillar, and the fact that it is adventure-based (quest learning or storyline), kids connect to the community to solve real world problems," noted Klann.

She emphasized that the opening of Steins Pillar made it possible to keep elementary schools open during COVID, because it spread out the students and kept the ratio of students to an acceptable level in the classrooms. She added that going to the library to access books made the most sense, because it is important to foster a sense of community to the students, and the library is a community entity that the taxpayers own.

"We would love to inspire other communities to think about making that a routine in their schools," added Klann.

She went on to say that in education, everything is about the thoughtful integration of studies.

"Minutes are precious, and there are priority standards that we want our children to master at each grade level," said Klann. "In an integrated model like quest or storyline, you incorporate multiple content areas into purposeful and meaningful activities."

For the students, a library visit can incorporate physical education into a field trip and at the same time, learn library skills on using the public library and how it is set up. It can also be an opportunity to research and learn about something that the students covered in their class. The experience also fosters a community partnership.

"Everything is with intent — what are all the things we can bring to the learning experience to make it meaningful and rich," she emphasized.

At Steins Pillar Elementary, the school year is divided into three quests, and each grade level experiences three unique quest stories per year. They are intentionally designed to fit the content of their grade level and "how do we connect to our community and enrich it as students?"

Klann gave an example of a partnership with the Crook County Middle School woodshop, where the CCMS students helped them build a "book marker." The slat of wood, which is like a ruler, goes with the students to the library to use, so they properly shelve the books back into the rightful places. Afterwards, they are gifted back to the students.

Another recent partnership with the community includes the City of Prineville, the Prineville Police Department and the Crook County Sheriff's Office. The city painted crosswalk markers in the intersections between Second Street and other cross streets on the way to the library, to ensure safety for students crossing these streets. On one occasion, the PPD officers on patrol stopped and blocked the intersections to allow for the students to safely cross.

"It was really neat, the kids loved it."

Last fall, Klann said they began having fifth graders go to the library to obtain a library card that they could utilize with their family. They still had to divide students up into small groups to meet guidelines, with only one class at any given time.

"The most shocking thing to me is the children who have never been to the library and providing that first exciting trip for them," she said.

Additionally, she noted that fostering awareness in children that the library is their community resource, and that the community owns it, is beneficial.

"You borrow something and take care of it and return it, and the goal each time we visit it is having the space as beautiful or cleaner than when you arrived. All of them say, 'Thank you' and make eye contact."

She often has students share their library experiences with her — "I went to the library this weekend Mrs. Klann!"

"I really believe we are building readers," she added. "It's so special."

When the students attend field trips like going to the library, they emphasize appropriate behavior in a common space and the importance of representing their school.

"As we continue to do more and more in the community, it is our goal to have them connect and give back," said Klann.

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