You could feel the excitement in the air when Riley and I first stepped foot on the red carpet last Thursday morning. Red clad men and women sporting enormous smiles and exchanging cheery greetings worked quickly as they got everything just exactly right for the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Kids chattered excitedly as they lined up and walked from room to room, catching glimpses of the book themed decorations adorning their school. An oversized chair sat empty on the large stage on the blacktop, waiting for the festivities to begin.
Teachers smiled, children squealed, and volunteers (all people who work at local Target stores) continued to forge ahead.
It was a big day. It was a long time in the making. And for the families in the Leo Politi Elementary School community…it was long overdue.
On Thursday, September 27, 2012, Target unveiled its latest renovation in the Target School Library Makeover Program. Leo Politi Elementary School in Los Angeles, CA marks makeover #133 in 2012, with a goal of helping 150 schools in need.
The community surrounding Leo Politi Elementary School has a poverty rate of 90%. Many of these families struggle to put food on the table each week.
But you wouldn’t know it from watching their kids at play.
Every which way we turned throughout the morning, children of all ages greeted us with big smiles and cheerful hellos. They welcomed us with open arms and made us feel at home. They were sweet, polite, friendly, and very, very grateful for the scene unfolding before them.
I sat down with Simone Tatro, Store Team Leader of City Target LA, to discuss the Target School Library Makeover Program.
KH: How is Target helping elementary schools in Los Angeles and around the country?
ST: Target is very excited to complete this school library makeover. This year Target is going to complete 150 renovations for libraries that are in need. This happens to be the 133rd library.
There is over 90% poverty rate in this neighborhood, and this is a school that is just a major success story.
Target and Heart of America partnered together to create the designs, and the children had input. The children got to draw their wish list of what color the carpet would be, what the furniture would look like, and what the colors would be on the walls.
Brad Rumble, the school Principal, says he feels like he won the lottery.
In addition to the library, we partnered with the LA Food Bank and we are going to have the children take home 22-30lbs of food today and they will have this monthly food program for two years.
KH: That’s really incredible. What are you hoping to do for this community as a whole?
ST: Improve the reading proficiency. This is already a comeback success story school where they have had year after year reading improvement (over the past three years) and we’re hoping to take it to a whole new level.
We provided new computers, new iPads, new whiteboards, and all the new technology that the kids requested. We are hoping that through the partnership, the new technology, and the food to nourish their bodies that that will nourish their minds and improve their reading proficiency.
Target Meals for Minds is a program in partnership with Feeding America and local food banks. Piloted in 2010, the program focuses on implementing school-based food pantry programs at in-need schools. Each student (and family) walks away with an average of 22lbs of fresh and non-perishable food on a monthly basis.
Part of the festivities included two appearances by the lovely Jamie Lee Curtis. She read her latest work, “My Brave Year of Firsts” (which, incidentally, is super cute), to the children of Leo Politi Elementary School…with some special guests acting out the story. The kids loved it! And? They each went home with their very own copy of the book, which doubled as a sunshade in the intense Los Angeles heat that day.
Riley and I caught up with Jamie Lee Curtis after the readings to chat about literacy and early learning. And can I just tell you? She is every bit as chatty and loveable as you think…we could have talked for hours.
KH: How can parents instill a love of reading in their kids? What can they do to keep it fun?
JLC: First of all…read to them! I talk to people all the time about this: Look in the mirror. When you look in the mirror, you’re looking at the problem. You can’t instill a love of reading if you don’t read to them or with them. If they’re not raised around books and literature and creativity and stories and imagination…you have to suit up and show up. Which is very hard to say to women who work full time and mommies who work three jobs. So someone else can read to them: A sibling, a grandparent, an Aunt or Uncle, or a friend.
To make reading time a priority in a family is a way to start to start the reading pleasure happening.
A love of reading is a very personal thing that happens with parents. As good as a school is, their job is to inculcate an entire education that has to do with reading, writing, math, science, history, and languages.
KH: We are very lucky because we live in an area of Los Angeles where we can use our public schools, and Riley goes to a great little school with an amazing library, but what can people do on a local level to help kids who don’t have the resources?
JLC: Schools often now don’t have libraries; they don’t have the budget so they don’t have the staffing. They are cutting budgets, so the first thing that goes is the librarian.
KH: Which is so sad…
JLC: Which is sad because then the libraries can’t be kept up the way a library needs to with a trained professional running it. So you have to accept that, but then go to the LA Public library, or the public library in your neighborhood, or the public library anywhere (you don’t have to live in Santa Monica to go to the library there). Support your public library. These public libraries have reading times and programs and they need volunteers to read to the younger children who are going there with their classes and do not have a significant adult who is reading to them.
KH: We love your books in our house; can you tell us a couple of books that your kids have loved over the years?
JLC: Thank you. My son, Tom, loved a series called “Geronimo Stilton”, which was about a mouse. Those were his first books that he ever read. And my daughter liked really dark books. There was a series called “The California Girls” or something like that and they had single names like Sunny and Crystal and Brandy and they were incredibly dark for what her friends were reading. These were books about outsider girls, and my daughter just couldn’t get enough of it.
And for me the greatest book ever written…the reason Heidi Schaeffer and I work together, is because we share a love of one book that has bonded us together for life no matter how far away we are from each other, there is one book that the two of us responded to as children, and that book is “Go, Dog. Go!”
KH: That’s so funny…I love it!
JLC: It has one of the great (Oh, Heidi is crying!) and weirdest non sequitur (explains non sequitur to Riley) ever done in modern literature: (Explains that the book is about simple opposites) And then out of the blue two dogs run into each other and one of them says, “Hello. Do you like my hat?” And the other says, “No. I do not like that hat.” “Goodbye.” “Goodbye.” And then it’s up/down, in/out, hot/cold and then twenty pages later, “Hello, again.” “Hello, again.” “Do you like my hat?” “Nope. Do not like that hat!” And then of course at the end, he likes the hat. Why that is the funniest non sequitur ever invented…it remains my absolute go-to if I’m feeling blue or feeling sorry for myself, or something, I go read, “Go, Dog. Go!”
Here’s the secret for your audience: These books (points to her books) are funny and I chose a really funny illustrator because the way to keep the kids engaged is to make the parents engaged. The parents are more engaged if they’re laughing at the drawings. Then they’re more interested in reading the books again and again. That’s the secret sauce that is my books: They are written for children, but they are also written for adults.
Did I tell you? I couldn’t love her more.
Riley and I walked away from this experience feeling incredibly proud to have been a part of it. Seeing the eyes light up in the children when Jamie Lee Curtis took the stage and hearing their cheers as the Principal spoke to them just goes to show that the community makes the school. These kids are motivated, happy, and supportive of one another.
And that’s what it’s all about. Together, we can make a change.
I can’t thank the great people at Target enough for giving me this opportunity.
And now I have a little something for you: In addition to Jamie Lee Curtis’ latest book, the children at Leo Politi Elementary School went home with many, many books, courtesy of Target. Riley and I were given one bag of books to donate to her school library, and now I have one bag of books left for one lucky reader. So go ahead – answer this question: How do you instill a love of reading in your children?
A winner will be chosen by random number generator on Friday…what are you waiting for? (Open to US readers only.)
Disclosure: As a member of Target Inner Circle, I was invited to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Leo Politi Elementary School library makeover. Target provided one bag of books to donate to the library, and one bag of books to give to a reader. The opinions contained within this post are my own.