The Rapidian

Young and mighty Cook Library Scholars excel in second year

Grandville Avenue students study, dance and experiment their way to academic success and future possibilities.
Program Manager Javier Cervantes with students Mary and Dylan

Program Manager Javier Cervantes with students Mary and Dylan

Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities

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Scholars at work

Scholars at work

Sometimes the words “improving literacy” can be just that: words. But words make up stories filled with real kids, real families and real struggles and successes.

Some of those stories are embodied in the Cook Library Scholars, students participating in a long-term, wrap-around program designed to prepare youth in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood to achieve academic success and to serve as future leaders. Launched last fall at the Cook Library Center, the program combines homework completion, academic enrichment, mentorship, and family literacy components. Scholars also devote time to volunteerism and to leadership and life skills training. The program currently serves 33 students and their families.

A neighborhood hotspot for community building and learning, the Cook Library Center buzzes with activity during the after school hours. Once the scholars have finished their homework, they participate in a rotating schedule of activities in the areas of dance, science, art, and writing.

Tuesday's science lesson is a favorite for sixth-grade scholar Dylan. “We've learned about rocks, volcanoes—some stuff like that. It's pretty cool,” he says. “Have you heard about Mentos and Diet Coke?” he adds. “Once they put the Mentos in, it just blew up.”

Fourth-grade scholar Mary was also a fan of the science experiment, and cites reading as one of her favorite activities. She missed last year's visit by author Sonia Manzano, famous for playing Maria on Sesame Street, but treasures an autographed copy of one of Manzano's books. Visits from famous writers are just one form of encouragement that Cook Library Scholars receive. The general mindset seems to be, The sky's the limit!

For example, what does Mary want to be when she grows up?

“I have three choices,” she says. “Gymnastics teacher (I'm really flexible and can do the splits), rapper, or doctor.”

“We try to recruit students who are already academically gifted,” says Program Manager Javier Cervantes, “to give them an extra boost to go on to college and have a career.”

Cervantes, who draws on his five years' experience with the YMCA's after school LOOP program at Buchanan Elementary, is committed to his work in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood. Like many good things, it's an effort that takes time and students can't go it alone.

This is why the dedicated involvement of the scholars' families is a requirement of the program. Well-attended monthly meetings help parents gain parenting skills, from how to start a conversation about college to ideas for no-cost, age-appropriate activities the family can do together at home. 

“The Cook Library Scholars was created to be a returning program for students K-12,” Cervantes explains. A family culture of learning together enhances students' success and increases their chances of returning.  

Cervantes says the majority of last year's students returned and improvements in spelling and math skills are already evident.

Mary offers sound advice to potential future scholars: “You can try your very best to be participating in school work and come to the library and work on your homework,” she says. “You can meet some people, and then ask your mom to sign you up.”

As the number of Cook Library Scholars grows, the demands for physical space will increase. A recent purchase of the lot and house next door will help the Cook Library Center expand over the next few years. Not only has community use of the library as a resource and gathering space increased but, according to Cervantes, “volunteers keep coming back.”

And it's no wonder, with the culture of connectivity and encouragement that pervades the library.

“They help with my homework, teach me new things, help me get good grades, and they say they care about us and they want a better future for us,” says Dylan of the Scholars staff. “It's like a family.”

Improving literacy is more than just words on a page. It's kids like Mary and Dylan and the 31 other Cook Library Scholars, working hard, expanding their minds and their idea of what is possible, and leaning together toward a bright future.

“Just seeing all the things these kids are good at is really inspiring,” Cervantes shares. “We have dancers, we have kids who are good at giving speeches, we have kids who are good at giving tours to our funders. Each one has a special gift, a special talent. We have future leaders.” 

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