‘Is It Library Time?’ By Principal Cherita Williams

A recently converted storage space in Buckland School in the Northwest Arctic Borough School District.  Principal Cherita Williams spent part of the summer of 2023 prepping a new library space in order to promote literacy, and even more importantly, a love of books and reading in her school.

When Principal Williams arrived in Buckland School, there was a small library, but students did not use it and the books were old and outdated. She also saw that an area used for general storage could be smartly repurposed to serve as a bigger library space. As a long-time educator with her own love of books, she set out to update and transform students’ access to high quality books and a matching space dedicated to reading.

Drawing funds from a federal Innovative Approaches to Literacy program grant, Principal Williams went to work in the late spring of 2023, bringing members from across the Buckland School community together to plan out the renewed space. Students shared the kinds of books they wanted to read. School staff contributed ideas on the furniture and color scheme. By the mid-summer, all the needed materials and books where on an ocean-going barge headed to Buckland.

As the 2023-2024 school year kicked off, the library space had been completed and students and families were welcomed into it. The effect of the renewed space was immediate. Students were immediately drawn to the new books and all the thoughtfully designed reading spaces. The intended excitement about the joy of reading was felt across the school. Principal Williams observed that students grab 4 or 5 books from the shelves, settle in to a comfortable nook and read as long as they are allowed to.

“Some of the most popular books have been the Dogman, Captain Underpants and Mother Bruce series! For the older kids, the Percey Jackson series has been the favorite.” Principal Williams also shared that they have filled the shelves with updated non-fiction, making sure that the northwest arctic landscape and its animal life is well represented in the selections. “Kids really love the books on arctic animals, the same animals they see when they go out on the tundra with their families.”

Students have a great deal of pride in this new space. “It’s never messy. Our students are really taking care of it.” noted Principal Williams. All classes have weekly scheduled library time this year. “One of the most frequent questions I get asked each day is ‘Is it library time today?’”

The community is also taking a great deal of pride in the beautiful new space, preferring it for school gatherings and meetings. “We’ve been using the library for ‘Lunch-and-Learn’ sessions,” explained Principal Williams. “We want parents to engage with the school and understand the great learning opportunities we have in Buckland. The library space has helped draw people to those conversations.”

Looking toward the future, Principal Williams has high hopes. “We have this dream to host authors in Buckland in the future so they can come talk about writing, read to our kids and even sign their books…anything to celebrate literacy. We are also looking to hire personnel who will open the library in the evenings and weekend for families to come read together.” The new space also has the potential to be powerful instructionally as a place for deeper studying, small group instruction, peer tutoring and storytelling. “We want it to be a place for our school community to come together. We’ve created something special and there is much more to come!”