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Fir Grove Elementary School has a crowning jewel - one of the top 10 school libraries in the state.


The State Library released a report Dec. 7 that shows that in the 2008-09 school year only nine elementary schools and one middle school in the entire state met the criteria set by the Oregon Quality Education Commission that define a high-quality school library.

In order to meet the standard, elementary schools had to have at least a half-time, certified teacher-librarian and a half-time aide working in the library, and spend at least $26 per student on library books and periodicals.

Fir Grove will meet that same criteria again this year, said Casey Sundermann, who has served as the school's librarian for about 21 years.

'No one person could do this alone,' Sundermann was quick to point out. 'It takes the entire school community.'

While she is proud of meeting state requirements, Sundermann said other school libraries in the Beaverton School District should not be discounted.

'Beaverton as a whole has wonderful librarians and library programs, and each library program has a distinct vision of what's needed for its students,' she said. 'The only difference between those school libraries and ours is that we've had the financial support of which we are so thankful.'

The bulk of that funding is invested in adding titles to Fir Grove's diverse collection of 20,000 items.

'Books are what we need the most,' said LisaKaren Donnelly, who has served as the part-time library assistant for nearly 12 years. 'Many students are without home bookshelves, so it's very important to have a selection for them here.'

Library funding comes from a combination of sources at Fir Grove.

'We credit our principal with having the vision and commitment to find funding in these times when budgets are so very tight,' Sundermann said. 'We also have wonderful parent support. We are very, very blessed.'

Volunteers like Frances Maser come in every week to shelve books, read with students and support the library's Earth Savers Club. Parents also run a book fair to benefit the library and help out in any way they can.

One family also stepped up to award two $500 Gilhousen Family Foundation grants to the Fir Grove library in the past two years.

Volunteers also come in the form of former students, who are now in middle school. They take advantage of a later start time to swing by in the morning to turn on computers, run errands, process new books and talk to younger kids about books they like, Sundermann said.

While neighboring districts including Hillsboro and Tigard-Tualatin have stopped funding half-time aides in their budgets, many Beaverton schools have a teacher-librarian and part-time assistant on staff.

'It's really key,' Donnelly said of having both positions. 'If I'm here, then Casey is free to teach, guide and assist the students.

'I will be busy at the checkout counter while she is helping them to find those great books. Kids aren't always going to find them without that help.'

Fir Grove's circulation desk is a whirlwind of activity every day as students rush in before class or at recess to exchange books. Every class also goes through the library once a week for a lesson and to check out items.

Having the right combination of books is key - they must tempt young readers from 5-year-olds who are just learning to read to fifth-graders who are so proficient they will read adult novels if allowed.

'If a student asks you about coin collecting, you want that child to find the exact, right books,' Sundermann said. 'They may be what sparks their interest and keeps them coming back.

'We want to teach students to love libraries so that they will continue to use them throughout their lives. Access to information is a fundamental right of citizens in a democracy, and I want kids to learn that libraries are public places, which they are entitled to use. This is their library, and I want them to feel welcome here and enjoy it.'

Fifth-graders give a rave review of their library

- Rachel Hetchler says it is just the right size for kids. 'I like that I don't have to bother the librarian just to reach a book. It has a pretty nice variety of books, and the librarians read out loud to our classes.'

- Shawn Li added, 'It has a big selection of books and magazines, and they are all different types. You can ask the librarians for a type of book, and they will show you where it is.'

- Hasmik Bulgadarian said, 'This is the best library I've been to because the librarians are very nice and helpful. When I checked out 'The Three Musketeers,' I didn't think I would get through it. It's a challenge reader that is really big, like 638 pages. They encouraged me to keep reading it, and now it's very interesting because every part of the story is coming together. I'm reading it just for fun.'

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