Bringing back books

Teacher kickstarts online fundraising campaign to bring library back to Kensington Health Sciences Academy

A room to read: Colleen Grelis, an ESL teacher at KHSA, currently has two online fundraisers to create a library at the high school. Staff have already arranged books the school has on bookcases. PHOTO: NIMET EREN

By Melissa Komar

While the thought of a school existing without books may seem far-fetched, a library has not existed at Kensington Health Sciences Academy in a decade.

Colleen Grelis, an ESL teacher who joined the school staff in September, is on a mission to change that.

“I noticed we didn’t have a library,” she said. “Currently, there are just classroom libraries, which aren’t that expansive because teachers provide everything themselves.”

About two weeks ago, Grelis submitted two projects to DonorsChoose.org to raise money for books, supplies and furniture for the future library.

Created in 2000, DonorsChoose is an online, nonprofit geared specifically toward teacher and school staff fundraising.

School staff submit projects, which are vetted by DonorsChoose staff, and then published online and available to the public.

Teachers select the specific items needed and once the project is funded, DonorsChoose purchases those items and ships them to the school.

Teachers then send thank-you notes to the donors, and photos of the completed project are posted.

Grelis chose the website because she has “used it for several years and gotten several projects completely funded.”

For 14 years, Grelis has worked within the School District of Philadelphia and other projects she had funded through DonorsChoose include uniforms for students, bulletin boards for hallways, and stocking classrooms with supplies including hand sanitizers, tissues and brooms.

Most recently, her project for work tables for a Plus Center in the school, a space for students to “complete work assignments, complete college and career applications, receive advisement and tutoring, utilize our computer lab” was funded.

Currently, Grelis has two active fundraisers for the library: “We Need a School Library” and “We Need Books for a New Library.”

Nimet Eren, principal at KHSA, is excited Grelis is rallying behind the project.

“Ms. Grelis is amazing,” she said. “I can’t thank her enough for all of the hard work she has already invested in this project. We are so thankful for dedicated teachers like Ms. Grelis.”

Staff have already started readying the multi-purpose room that will house the library, “but right now, the library is just four bookcases of books. We are hoping this summer we can expand the library, and make the space truly dedicated to reading, learning and celebrating literacy,” Eren added.

The total cost for the library fundraiser is $1,149 and the total cost for the books fundraiser is $975, with donations being matched three times by ExxonMobil for the books.

Grelis intentionally kept the goals low because there is “more chance of being funded.”

The library furniture to be purchased includes three tables and 12 chairs.

For the books, Grelis selected a wide-range to meet all reading levels and engage all interests.

“I picked out high school level books to get kids motivated to read and come to the library,” she said. “There’s a wide variety from classics such as Homer’s Iliad to modern slam poets of today. There’s The Catcher and the Rye, The Poet X and The Outsiders. Choosing books they could relate to was important.”

The fundraisers will remain open until July 7 and July 12 respectively and, if fully funded, supplies will be delivered in August, impacting approximately 400 students in the new school year.

For Grelis, that impact is establishing an environment that was once the norm.

“We just want to have a library like back in the day,” Grelis said. “Every school in Philly had a library, but now they are far and few between because resources are so lacking.”

Aside from creating a physical space, Grelis hopes to provide students with peace of mind.

“Students should will be able to get a good book, relax and just read for enjoyment.”

To donate to either fundraiser for the future library at Kensington Health Sciences Academy, 2463 Emerald St., visit donorschoose.org and search “Kensington Health Sciences Academy High School.”