Erin Abran's fourth-grade class at the John M. Marshall Elementary School had glowing book reviews to share this week after visiting the school's new library for the first time.
"I think the new library looks great! It is not that squishy anymore," said Krystal Chacon.
"It is very spacious and has a lot of books and there are a lot of places to read and do your work," said Malikhi Oquendo.
Leontios Teryazos is a big fan of the "huge encyclopedia," and Annabelle Mahmouzian thinks the new read-aloud area is "so cool."
And as Rambo Flores put it: "I think the new library can cover me in books. Reading fills me with joy, so I am so happy to have the library back."
A project at least two years in the works, further delayed by Covid-19, the brand-new library media center has finally come to fruition. Some 38,000 books boxed up haphazardly at the start of the pandemic had to be cataloged and shelved from scratch. A lab for engineering, coding, and other hands-on technology lessons has been revamped. An antique rocking chair is an inviting touch. There are comfy seats and windows that let in natural light — and limitless learning potential over all, John Marshall educators said this week.
Last year, the renovation was put on hold when social distancing required school officials to get imaginative when setting up additional classrooms, and the prekindergarten moved in.
Danielle Schuster, the head librarian, greeted fourth graders on Monday with a big-hearted "Welcome to the library!" She read aloud a favorite story, "The Stranger" by Chris Van Allsburg. When they got fidgety, she assured them that there wasn't going to be any assigned seating. She also reminded them that they have some long-overdue books, checked out in March of 2020 when school was on the cusp of closing.
Also long overdue was "a good weed," Ms. Schuster said just before the class arrived. As she and Camille Intermaggio, the library aide, unpacked 250 boxes of books over the last several weeks, "we found books from the 1950s and 1960s, older books with themes and language that may not be appropriate for this time and this age group," Ms. Schuster said. "We're trying to make it as relevant as possible."
She and Jeff Thompson, a technology teacher who leads classes in the laboratory attached to the library, are hoping to "marry the two spaces" with collaborative lessons and activities.
Asked how it feels to be teaching in a brand-new space, Mr. Thompson said, "I feel not limited."
"This class was originally a computer class," he said, "but these kids have to do more tactile learning than just sitting in front of a machine."
He pointed to shelves and shelves of students' projects. Soon, he said, the first graders will be building Lego derby cars, the fourth graders will be building marshmallow catapults, and the fifth graders will be building bottle-rocket launchers. He said a 3-D printing lab is in the future plans.
The elementary school isn't the only East Hampton campus to put a renewed emphasis on reading. At the middle school, where the library had to be converted to a cafeteria to alleviate crowding amid the pandemic, the name of the game is now "independent reading." Stefanie Marigliano, the librarian, and Rita Greene, the English language arts coordinator, put library books on wheels so students could still access them.
"This is reading for pleasure," Charlie Soriano, the school's principal, said by email. "The very mobile Mrs. Marigliano visits our classrooms on a regular basis to keep our students stocked with independent reads from her grade-specific carts of new releases, middle school favorites, and popular series. She also reviews and reinforces important library skills."
The kids can take out two books at a time, and they'll soon be able to request specific titles.
"By now, every student in the building has an independent novel of her/his own choice, and our English language arts teachers and librarian have reviewed the basics of book selection, circulation, and care of books," Mr. Soriano said.
At East Hampton High School, a partnership between the school and the East Hampton Library led to the creation of Book Club for independent reading and group discussions. "After some screen-time severe overload and limited extracurricular activities during the pandemic, students voiced their interest in reading for pleasure, resulting in us joining forces," said Michael Buquicchio, a high school media specialist and Advanced Placement Capstone teacher.
The club has grown so much that the school and library had to tap Suffolk's interlibrary loan system to provide enough books for the kids. They are now reading "One of Us Is Lying," a young-adult mystery by Karen M. McManus.
The high school library also now features a separate, peaceful space for mindfulness. "In line with our district's mental health initiative focusing on the social and emotional growth of adolescent learners, the mindfulness room is a safe space with comfortable furniture, soothing lights, oil diffusers, and a sound machine encouraging students to decompress, reflect, and engage in multiple mindful and sensory-based activities," Mr. Buquicchio said.
At John Marshall, Karen Kuneth, the school's principal, said the district's facilities crew did an amazing job with the renovation. "There's more to come," she said Monday. "This is just opening day."