A new project spearheaded by a teacher from Springhead Elementary is bringing the love of reading into students’ backyards.
Kimberly Preziosi has been a teacher with Hillsborough County for more than 20 years and taught for four years in Tokyo in an international school. At Springhead she taught English Language Arts for fourth grade students, though she’s taking this year off. She said that while teaching remotely during the pandemic she was shocked to realize how many of her students were learning from home, but didn’t have access to reading books. So she decided to change that.
“I guess it surprised me because when I’m in their classroom I can add books to their book bags and send them home with them,” Preziosi said. “We know that public libraries were closed or operating differently so my husband (Mark) and I thought, ‘Why don’t we bring the libraries to these students?’ He’s very crafty so he went out to the garage and built a little library and I started to work on getting donations.”
Her fellow teachers and faculty stepped up to the plate and in June the first library was erected and filled at Happy Homes, where more than 40 students from Springhead live. Soon a second library was built and put at Parkwood Estates, where two buses filled with children, approximately 75 to 100 Springhead students, live. Just last weekend Preziosi installed a third library at Briarwood Trailer Park, another location Springhead students call home.
Preziosi goes multiple times a week to update the libraries and make sure they’re still filled with appropriate books for the students. She said that research has proven time and again that students who read at home perform better in school. However, she said it also opens up their imagination and inspires students to dream.
They can open a book and go into the future, go into the past, go into a world completely different from the one we live in now. And importantly, Preziosi said it teaches empathy, a characteristic she feels can change lives.
Michelle McClellan, principal at Springhead Elementary, said Preziosi has long been an advocate for literacy at the school. When she reached out to faculty and staff they didn’t hesitate to fill bins with books ranging in reading levels for their students.
“This is such a community school,” McClellan said. “We have so many families that have gone here for generations, our staff, our faculty, we all look at each other as one big community and I was thrilled to hear about how much everyone stepped up to help. Our students’ needs are first whether that’s food, books, clothes, whatever they need we do our best to help.”
Counselor Amanda Brennan agreed and said there is a closet at the school where many of the staff donate clothes, shoes, hygiene products and then gift them to students as needed. When the call came for books Brennan immediately began collecting them so that their students could have access to books in their own homes.
Jenna Benchikh, migrant advocate at Springhead, played a key role — along with Brennan — in identifying locations for Preziosi to place the libraries and has taught the students as they board the bus on how to use the lending libraries. Benchikh said the students know to reach out and let them know if there’s a book they want or can’t get in the classroom and they’ll do their best to add them.
“Hopefully this develops a love of reading for these students,” Benchikh said. “I know a lot of our families don’t have easy access to the public library. Some of our parents our working long hours so getting to the library just isn’t always doable. This offers a unique opportunity. There’s everything from board books to bilingual books. We’re always encouraging our families to get involved. Even if the parents don’t speak English they’ll do wonders reading with their children. Teach them how to read in any language and you’re teaching such an important skill. Now these families have that option and I just really think it’s going to open a new world for these students and take them to a place maybe they could never imagine or dream of going.”
Preziosi said she is looking for Sunshine State Young Reader Award Books as well as books in a series like the Junie B. Jones, Judy Moody and Diary of Wimpy Kid collections. Anyone who would like to donate new books to the ever growing project can do so by labeling the books as being intended for the library and dropping them off at Springhead Elementary’s front office, 3208 Nesmith Rd.