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Teacher Helps Kids Learn in Library — on her Back Porch

By Chloe Riley | January 22, 2013 8:43pm

LITTLE VILLAGE — Kids in Rachel Perveiler’s neighborhood only have to go as far as her backyard to find a library.

Perveiler, a 23-year-old special education teacher at Finkl Elementary, runs a library for neighborhood kids on the back porch of her apartment building.

The library was born two summers back, when Perveiler was hauling several boxes of books to her apartment in Little Village.

Her neighborhood kids, off for the summer, ran up to help her with the boxes.

“And they said, ‘Hey, these are kids books, why do you have these?’ They were very curious about what was going on with these books,” said Perveiler, who teaches sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

With those personal books combined with donations from friends and family, La Biblioteca de Personas — aka The People’s Library — was born.

Since then, the library has expanded to 500 books, which she has stored on bookcases and plastic crates on her enclosed back porch, and with as many as three "librarians" (including Perveiler's boyfriend and a summer intern) working there. Although she keeps it open more regularly in the summer, based on when neighborhood children ask to use it, she opens it about once a week in the winter.

In the summer, anywhere from seven to 12 neighborhood kids show up to read on any given day.

There are some rules to check out a book. The kids have to make a “library card” by coloring in a bookmark and writing a promise on the front of the card.

“And they got to make up whatever the promise was. Most of the time it was ‘To take care of the books,’ ‘To be nice to Rachel,’ ‘To bring the books back,’” Perveiler said.

The library’s mission is to promote literacy and teach accountability. If the kids lose a book, one of the ways they can make up for the loss is by creating a new book.

One such made-up book, "How to Make a Snowman," became a full-length play during the winter months last year when both kids and adults were feeling cooped up and missing library time from the summer months.

A girl named Jaylene, or “Little J.,” as Aumiller calls her, created the book and directed the show.

At 9 years old, Little J. has already created multiple books, many of them about riddles that keep the reader guessing until the end. She said the Magic Tree House series are her favorite books to check out from The People’s Library.

“I like it because there’s a lot of adventures and they’re kind of like my stories,” she said.

Juan Camacho, 13 and an Abraham Lincoln fanatic in eighth grade, mostly uses the library as a resource for school projects, like one he recently did on child labor during the Industrial Revolution.  

“It helps me with my homework, especially my research,” he said.

Leticia Camacho, Juan's mother, said at first she was hesitant to go to the library because she was shy about her lack of English.

But when she found that Perveiler spoke some Spanish, Camacho, 41, said she came more and more frequently and even checked out bilingual books for herself.

"It helps a lot for the kids," said Lorena Garcia, a 39-year-old mom who lives across the street. "At the beginning, I didn't put too much interest in it, I have to be honest. But then I started to come and talk to Rachel."

Perveiler, who grew up in southwest suburban Orland Hills, credits her devotion to Little Village to her time with STEP-UP, a summer internship program she completed during the summer before her senior year at Illinois State University.

The three-year-old program is a product of the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline, a program at the university that encourages education majors to live in the urban communities where they teach.

Through STEP-UP, Perveiler lived with a host family in Little Village, improved her Spanish, and worked with Enlace Chicago, a community organization in Little Village.

“Education is much larger than the four walls of the school,” said Dakota Pawlicki, who helped develop the Chicago Pipeline and is now its operations manager. “We’re training teachers to become teacher leaders.”

Pawlicki said Perveiler is the kind of teacher who makes the leap between teaching in the community and really living there and understanding the needs of its residents.

“When she sees a need, she doesn’t just stop or wait for someone else to find a solution,” he said.

And, Perveiler said, the lessons she’s learned in the library are ones that she can bring directly into her classroom.

“It kind of has shown me that you can teach responsibility and you can teach ownership and you don’t necessarily have to read it in a story or in a book.  Your actions can teach as well,” she said.