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In Baltimore, a School-Library Partnership is a Recipe for Success


What if a student could not only read Green Eggs and Ham but also explore cooking green eggs and ham?

That’s one of the many exciting possibilities now available as the result of a special collaboration between Baltimore City Public Schools and the Enoch Pratt Free Library system of Baltimore. Supporting the partnership is Great Minds, creator of the Wit & Wisdom English language arts curriculum used in Grades K–8 in Baltimore.

Under the partnership, district literacy experts, teachers, school librarians, and city librarians are compiling resources to ensure that student learning continues beyond the classroom at school and community libraries.

Twitter post of photo of child reading next to a bookshelf full of books and a sign that reads, "What is my child learning in English Language Arts?" Tweet from Sonja Santalises @SonjaSantinlises, "During our family visit to the library today, came across this guide for families to our @BaltCitySchools content rich ELA curriculum. Thanks to @prattLibrary - wonderful community partners in family literacy!"

In Wit & Wisdom, students read Green Eggs and Ham as their first book in Grade 1. After school, under the district–library partnership, they can go to the community library and check out a cookbook with recipes inspired by Green Eggs and Ham. The community librarians have created a collection of books to complement what students study in the classroom. The books students read in class inspire their choices of the books they read at home. The curiosity piqued at school sparks a quest for further knowledge.

Under the partnership, librarians have already visited several schools to read books related to Wit & Wisdom titles and do a craft project with students. Grade 1 students read about a boy who built a windmill to bring electricity to his village. Librarians read related books to the students and helped them create crafts to show the properties of wind in action.

Librarians don’t work only with enthusiastic readers. “If there are reluctant readers, maybe librarians know of a super-engaging text that will draw the students in,” said Melissa Loftus, secondary literacy educational specialist for Grades 6–8 in the Baltimore City Public Schools.

Nor do librarians work only with the youngest students. “Older students might find online resources, such as the electronic newsstand, useful for research,” said Cornelia Beckett, program assistant in the Programs and Outreach department of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Educators and librarians point out that their collaboration is just beginning. Baltimore City Public Schools students have finished their first year of using the curriculum, already seeing gains. Librarians will continue to gauge student interests as they locate existing texts that amplify Wit & Wisdom and order new texts to meet demand.

Enthusiasm for the partnership continues to build. “Librarians who weren’t completely aware of the knowledge-building component of Wit & Wisdom felt empowered when they realized how much they could help (students make connections between classroom texts and library texts),” said Emmanuel Faulkner, educational specialist in the Library Services department of Baltimore City Public Schools.

The Enoch Pratt Central Library has a dedicated Wit & Wisdom-themed display, which caught the eye of Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises on a recent visit. All Pratt library branches are displaying the reading ladder poster she captured in a photo. The poster shows the topics students are learning in Wit & Wisdom and encourages parents to ask librarians for related resources.

The partnership reflects the premise of Wit & Wisdom: Research shows that curricula that aim to build student knowledge help students learn critical literacy skills. When students are interested in the content, they want to learn more and write about the content to show what they’ve learned.

The Baltimore community literacy partnership sets a shining example for all communities that undertake a rich new curriculum and want to make the very most of it for students. Asked for any advice to other communities adopting a rigorous literacy curriculum, Faulkner said, “Power to librarians!”

Enlisting librarians to find books to complement what students are learning in class is a wonderful recipe for success. At Great Minds, we can’t wait to see the results.