When St. Paul Public Schools closed its buildings because of the coronavirus pandemic, school librarians and library aides were asked to find a way to get books in the hands of students.
But events like curbside checkouts outside the school weren’t going to work for Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet.
The school had no staffers dedicated to the library, and as a citywide magnet school, it wouldn’t have been practical to ask families to drive several miles to check out books.
As the school year approached, three middle school reading teachers got together to brainstorm a solution.
“Lisa (Schibel) said she said saw an ad on Facebook Marketplace for an ice cream truck and she said, ‘Let’s buy one.’ We said, well, we don’t have money for that but we have cars,” said Sarah Schupanitz.
And so, the Capitol Hill Litmobile was born.
For five days in September and five more in October, Schupanitz, Schibel and Linda Morrison drove to a new location in the city, mostly parks, lugging crates of books and loaning them out to students they’d only ever met over iPad.
“When kids show up we’re like, ‘Who are you?’ And we say who we are,” Schupanitz said. “Reading brings us together.”
The project promotes leisure reading while also helping with academic work at a time when the pandemic has wrecked havoc on the lives and educations of Minnesotans..
Under the school district’s workshop model for reading classes, students get to choose the books they read while applying a common set of skills under the state’s academic standards.
“We need to have a variety of books for kids to be able to pick,” Principal Andrew Hodges said, “and we have to have books that they’re interested in to make this work.”
The school typically gets nearly $5,000 a year from the school district to refresh its school library, Hodges said. That gets Capitol Hill and the neighboring Benjamin E. Mays Elementary, which shares the library, about 500 new books for some 2,000 students.
Individual teachers have their own classroom libraries, which get a boost from PTO donations.
This school year, additional donations have been fueling the Litmobile. The project has received over $5,000 in online gifts, as well as countless donations of new and used books. The new purchases have focused on books by diverse authors and books that have been popular with children.
Because Capitol Hill serves grades 1-8, some of its elementary teachers have since joined the effort.
So has the “Liticorn.” During an October stop at Indian Mounds Regional Park, the teachers were surprised to see a a parent in a unicorn costume bouncing down the path, carrying a boombox.
“Litmobile is getting me through this year,” Schupanitz said.
Hodges said some 225 students have checked out roughly 1,200 books, far exceeding the checkout totals of other schools during the pandemic.
But, like so much else, the Litmobile was parked in November as coronavirus cases in the community reached new highs. Organizers hope to get back on the road in February.
“We’ve really missed it,” Schupanitz said.
ABOUT THIS STORY
COVID-19 took a lot from Minnesotans: their fun, their livelihoods and, for 5,000, their very lives. As we surveyed the wreckage of 2020, we also saw the silver linings that came out of the pandemic for this daily series of stories. Other silver linings:
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