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First Lady Delivers $5,000 and a Passion for Reading

May 21, 2003|Hilda Munoz | Times Staff Writer

First Lady Laura Bush visited Vernon City Elementary School on Tuesday to give a boost to the struggling campus library and those of 131 other schools across the nation.

Vernon City Elementary won $5,000 to expand its library's book collection, becoming the first school in the country to receive money from the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries.

"All of us know that libraries are necessary to help students learn to read and do well in school," the first lady said during a small assembly in the school's courtyard. "I worked as a teacher and as a librarian, and I learned how important reading is in schools and in life."

Bush also donated a copy of "Tomas and the Library Lady," a story about a boy from a family of farm workers who develops a love of reading and appreciation for the library. The story is based on the life of author Tomas Rivera, who became president of UC Riverside, Bush said.

"His life story teaches us a very important lesson," she said to her largely student audience.

"The more you read, the more you'll learn, and the more opportunity you will have in life."

Principal Hilda Almada-Higgins said the award will add 250 to 400 titles to the library's 4,000-book collection.

"Five thousand dollars may not seem like a lot of money, but when we are the only library for our children, 250 books will expand our library," she said.

Vernon, a small industrial city south of downtown Los Angeles, has no public library, she said. About 260 students, 80% of whom are learning English, attend the school.

The school library operates from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., but may have to cut its hours next semester because of budget cuts, Almada-Higgins said.

Pam Willeford, chair of the advisory committee for Bush's foundation, said the foundation received more than 6,100 applications for funds. They came from every state, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands and some military bases.

She said many of the schools had tattered, out-dated reference books that were up to 20 years old.

"In some of those books, man hadn't walked on the moon yet," Willeford said.

Bush said the volume of applications showed how desperate school libraries around the country are for new books.

"We really want children to be able to read," she told reporters. "We know reading is the most important skill you learn in school. If you can read, you can do every other subject. If you can't read, you're in a huge disadvantage in school and then later in life."

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