By Nancy Gutierrez

Taking a lesson from university libraries, resource teacher Joanie Wollenman has completely changed the library experience for students at Washington Elementary School.

"I wish we could come here every day," second-grader Aaron Figueroa said as he was leaving the library.

Students were amazed when they first experienced the new layout of the library. They were greeted with the sounds usually found in the mountains or in a forest. There a waterfall and birds chirping, even crickets can be heard. One corner of the room is decorated with foliage and under a fake tree sits the story-telling log, where Wollenman reads to the children. The entire area is called Camp Read-A-Lot and each week children learn facts about a variety of subjects. Currently children are comparing the differences between Redwoods and Sequoia trees. In a separate area there are exhibits on tarantulas and ants. Students can read facts about tarantulas while examining two real tarantulas currently visiting the library. The ants exhibit has an actual ant farm for students to study while they read about the hardworking insects.

"The library has been transformed and the vision is for kids to learn and be enriched," Wollenman said. "We want them to discover new things and enjoy learning. Reading is a big part of that."

During their visits, students learned about some part of the forest or mountains. So far they have learned about the reat horned owl, stellar jays, warblers and recently about Sequoia and Redwood trees.

"Joanie looked for things that children would be interested in," Lindsay Unified School District Superintendent Janet Kliegl said. "The focus will be changing continually throughout the year."

Each class that visits the library is greeted at the door by Wollenman, who tells the students what they will be learning that day. She said she always asks them to put on their "good eyes" and "good ears" and be ready to discover something new.

Wollenman is also teaching the students how important it is to respect the library and books. She has implemented strategies like, book shelf markers, to help keep the library organized and well stocked. She said the first lesson involved being respectful, not just to the library and books, but to each other and to teachers and parents.

"The kids have really taken ownership of the library," she said. "It's not my library or the schools. It is their library."

Students have already started contributing to the decorations in the library. Wollenman said children donated ceramic forest animals and one family purchased a butterfly pavilion that will be used later on as an exhibit. Wollenman will send for butterfly larva so that students can experience the life cycle of a butterfly.

Visits to the library have also become incentives to work hard and be good. Kindergarten through fourth-grade students can receive "I love reading" passes from their teachers to visit the library during recess. Wollenman said fifth- and sixth-graders can participate in flex time which allows them to do research in the library for class projects.

The concept of an engaging library was brought to Wollenman by Principal Tom Rooney and Vice Principal Debbie Arjona. Wollenman said they talked to her about their vision for the library and told her to be creative.

"They were very trusting. And the teachers are so supportive of what we're doing. I am very passionate about this work and the kids," she said. "My husband and I decided to change the entrance to the library so children could see that they were someplace special."

Wollenman and her husband Guy stained the front walk way to look like brick. An erasable sign tells students what exhibits are on display. Inside a large mat, bought by the school, provides a soft place for children to listen to stories. A large bean bag provided by the Wollenmans is an inviting lace for students to read.

"It is a very peaceful and relaxing place and a joy to come and be in. One student even said they'd like to live here," she said. "We hope that it is a wonderful place of learning and the kids enjoy opening up a book."

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