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Books pour into Williams Elementary School

Susan Notes: Three cheeers for people who think that kids need books.

MOUNT VERNON Several boxes of new and used books are stacked in Principal Ernest Gregg's office at the Edward Williams Elementary School, awaiting sorting by a team of librarians later this month.

They'll go through the donations that continue to descend upon one of Mount Vernon's elementary schools, whose outdated library collection was documented earlier this month in The New York Times and on America Online.

"There has been such an outpouring of love and affection to a school that has been so ignored," said Debra Fisher, a volunteer from Mercy College's graduate occupational therapist program. "This is going to rejuvenate Williams."

The Edward Williams School, on Union Lane on Mount Vernon's predominantly minority south side, is not among the city's renowned elementary schools, like Lincoln and Columbus, which have garnered national attention for their outstanding performance on statewide math and English tests.

The school has seen several principals over the past decade. Gregg is now in his first year at the helm. He said the annual allotment of $6 per student for library books hasn't been enough to replenish the collection, which includes shelves full of books from the 1950s and 1960s, but little from the 1990s and beyond.

The response to the national media attention has stunned the Williams educators. Donations have come from across the nation. In Gregg's office, new books stacked in piles span the spectrum of youth literature from Dav Pilkey's hilarious "Dumb Bunnies" for first-graders to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series for advanced readers in grades four and five.

Comedian Bill Cosby sent 20 books. The Scholastic Foundation mailed 15 boxes of books; World Book Encyclopedia has pledged a new reference set.

Rachel Robinson, the founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation in Manhattan, sent 24 books about her husband, one of the great black figures of 20th-century sports.

"We had to get them some books," said Della Britton Baeza, president of the Robinson Foundation. "Hearing about that situation just broke my heart."

Gregg said a group of librarians plan to go through the donations in early April. Any duplicates, he said, would be parceled out to other Mount Vernon schools. The new books will be catalogued and ready for reading later in the spring.

Books, however, aren't Williams' only need. The school library, known as the "media center," features six outdated computers that were donated to the school, but they are rarely used because they won't support today's educational software.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., toured the school March 15 with Stanley Litow, president of the IBM International Foundation. Litow said the foundation would like to help Williams improve its media center, but it first wants to study the district's technology plan so the foundation's donations fit into the district's program.

He noted that 2004 was the first in several years that the district had applied for federal E-rate subsidies for school computer systems.

"Based on what we see in their plan, we'll try to figure out the missing piece we could help with," Litow said. "It would be a mistake to step in to address the problem without a plan."

— David Mckay Wilson
The Journal News


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