A few months ago, I asked you for support to help me build a library for the high school students of my Cambodian community. I am so pleased to say that so many of you came through for them. Through generous donations, the library room has been fully renovated and stocked with a large selection of books and educational materials.
Thanks SO MUCH to those of you that donated to the grant!
In addition to your support, I reached out to the network of resources I have built while here in Cambodia. I called the US Navy Seabees once again. A team came over the course of 4 Saturdays and worked along side the faculty and students of the high school. They moved all the old furniture out, cleaned and painted the entire library room. The Seabees then crafted new bookshelves across the back wall of the room. These sturdy new shelves will hold all the Government Text books that need to be stored in the summer between sessions.
The Ridgway Elementary School in my US home made a generous donation of about 40 English books for the library. Thanks to Librarian Melissa for making that happen, and thanks to my friend Chris who hand carried the books to us here in Cambodia by donating one of his entire checked bags for the task. The selection of English books has made a valuable addition to the library.
I traveled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, with two students, one of the librarians, and Samon, an English teacher. We purchase new books and supplies for the library. I essentially left book selection in the hands of these four representatives, and they chose what they thought would be best for their school library.
We shopped at 4 major booksellers and selected from nearly every category to create an inventory of both English and Khmer books. We purchased 914 new books, and other resources with the money donated to this project!
Over the next few weeks, I met with the librarians and students to organize the books. The librarians and I made an inventory of all the books dividing them into categories. We created a simple indexing system using colored tape. Each category was assigned a color, and each book got a corresponding piece of colored tape on its spine. A number on the colored tape designates subcategories.
Each book then got a hand made protective plastic cover. I noticed many of the students would make plastic covers to protect their textbooks. Insects, mice, humidity, rainwater, and dirty hands are all hard on books here in Cambodia. I thought covers for the library books would help extend their lives, so I recruited the students and they created covers for every book.
I think this was great fun for the students. They spent almost as much time reading and exploring all the new books as they did making the covers.
Over several days I worked with the students to set up the newly renovated library room and organize the books on the shelves.
Part of the money donated went to buying a protective glass case. This case holds all the new books and provides protection for the collection.
The student decorated the room with the many educational posters and maps we purchased.
It took them no time to start using these resources.
Today students rotate through the library in their classes on a daily basis utilizing the books. Independent visitation is also occurring during non class hours allowing the students an opportunity to explore and read on their own for fun.
One reason is because research has confirmed the benefits of Extensive Reading (ER) especially for learning a foreign language. ER exposes the reader to authentic language, helps students remember language they already learned, and increases their ability to learn and understand new language, especially new vocabulary. The idea of reading for pleasure is a new concept in Cambodian schools. Lack of book availability is one problem, but another is just plain not realizing the value in it. The Cambodian school system does not normally make room for alternate styles of learning such as free reading. I am hoping I have helped to change this in my village.
Robert Cunningham is a former PCV who worked at this same school as an English teacher several years before me. He still lives and teaches in Cambodia, and has retained a strong connection to this community. When I told Robert about this library project, he offered his support in the form of an Extensive Reading seminar. Robert has been working with this program at the private school he teaches at in Phnom Penh.
In a presentation to the English teachers, Robert explained how this system encourages the use of pleasure reading to improve student learning. By directing students to level appropriate books, allowing students to pick the books that interest them, and without the pressure of it being a graded exercise, tremendous results have been seen in improving students’ ability to learn English. With the library’s new inventory of books, the ER method is now possible for the students. I hope that it will catch on making use of the new library resources.
If you are interested you can learn more about this program and the Extensive Reading Foundation on their web site here.