It’s just two shelves of books set up outside the office at a local apartment complex, but Edina’s littlest library is making a big difference in the lives of the families who use it.
There are picture books and folktales and easy-readers in a number of languages—stories that kids and grownups who are learning English can read out loud. There are pockets inside the book jackets, check-out slips and even a de facto librarian: Brittney Martinez, who is the property manager at the apartment complex, Edina Park.
When Martinez and Mary Streier, manager of targeted early childhood services at the Edina Family Center, set up the shelves last fall, they just thought they might be able to get some unused books into kids’ hands. They had no idea how popular the tiny library would become.
“Our residents really love it,” says Martinez. “We’ve gotten so many compliments.”
Many of the families that live in the complex are new to the United States, and are drawn to the community because of Edina’s excellent schools. In turn, Edina Public Schools puts a lot of energy into making sure every child is poised to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.
In the case of families that don’t speak English, parents also often need help getting up to speed by the time their kids enter school, says Streier. “A lot of times they are telling us their language [skills aren’t] sufficient to help with homework.”
While all Minnesota school districts by law must have a school readiness coordinator like Streier, the Edina Family Center offers a much more focused effort to make sure that all of the community’s children have access to high-quality preschool and other kindergarten readiness experiences.
The Edina Family Center takes its pre-K services to the community, rather than waiting for families—who might not be aware that they qualify for preschool—to seek them out. Knowing that transportation and isolation can be issues for newcomers who don’t speak English, Streier is a fixture in Edina’s apartment communities.
A mother of two herself, Martinez was thrilled to have Early Childhood Family Education staff on the property. She made it a point to invite Streier to set up a table at the complex’s annual National Night Out celebration.
Separately, each had wondered whether a small shelf outside Martinez’s office that held a handful of adult books otherwise unread might be made useful. In September, the Edina Family Center replaced it with a real bookshelf stocked with books chosen for adult English-language learners to read to their children, as well as titles for older kids.
Martinez and Streier hosted two family nights where residents—including some students who got a good start with the Family Center—pitched in to catalogue the collection.
Martinez says she hears constantly that the diversity of the selection is what draws families back to the shelf on a regular basis. More difficult books will be added over time, and Streier would like to add some activity bags with toys and games families can check out. “I knew one of the best things to do was to get books into the hands of those kids,” Streier says. “Whatever we can do to help parents help their kids be ready.”