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The principal of Santee Elementary in San Jose told us that they are at the center of one of the roughest sections of East San Jose, often defined by high levels of poverty and violence. However, Santee elementary offers a safe environment where children can learn and thrive. They serve a transient population of recent immigrants from Mexico, elsewhere in Latin America and Vietnam.

When we first visited the library, the books were hard for the students to access as there was extra furniture blocking some of them, and the shelves were cluttered with piles of paper, boxes, and textbooks for the classrooms that made the books less inviting. The library books themselves were decades old, worn, and far too few of them for a school of that size.

With our help and encouragement, the school staff decluttered the library of the old furniture and materials that weren’t needed. For this project, we were fortunate to receive a special donor gift that allowed us to buy additional comfortable and colorful reading furniture. We wanted the kids to have a place to read that was more like a cozy living room instead of a stiff and formal classroom. Our volunteers also weeded over 1,000 tattered and outdated books from the collection to make room for the new books.

While the building was newer, the library lacked signage at the entrances to indicate that a library is inside, so we painted new “Library” signs in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, and the Principal is pleased that the facade is now welcoming to all of the families. Our volunteers also added many new murals that make the library more cheerful, whimsical and welcoming.

With a generous grant from the Dougherty family, we purchased 1,200+ new books for the library focusing on recent high-interest titles and books that feature diverse characters and/or are written by diverse authors. Sixty-one volunteers chipped in to paint murals, prepare books for the library, assemble furniture, and more.

“The school library is a unique and essential part of a learning community. It is also a vital connection between school and home. Access Books Bay Area has given the Santee community access to up to date, culturally relevant, gorgeous books that will encourage Santee learners, educators and families to become lifelong learners and readers. In addition to high-quality reading material, our school library was transformed into a colorful, vibrant and welcoming environment that supports our goal of reading for enjoyment. Thank you to all of the volunteers and generous donors for investing in our beautiful community.”

-Maria Reyes, School Principal, Santee Elementary, San Jose

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