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Beatrice Haney Makes Literacy Her Mission

By Casey Cora | February 10, 2014 7:01am
 Beatrice Haney, of James Ward Elementary School in Bridgeport, is DNAinfo Chicago's Teacher of the Week.
Beatrice Haney, of James Ward Elementary School in Bridgeport, is DNAinfo Chicago's Teacher of the Week.
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DNAinfo/Casey Cora

BRIDGEPORT — At James Ward Elementary School, people listen to Beatrice Haney. 

Students, teachers and even Principal Karen Anderson know the longtime teacher-librarian helps run the show at the Bridgeport school, 2710 S. Shields Ave.

"We tease her. We say that she came with the bricks outside the school," Anderson said.

Haney has been at Ward since 1981, first entering the school after a yearlong stint substitute teaching at a West Side elementary school.

Ever since, the Woodlawn resident has been the school's wisecracking, tough-talking librarian with a soft heart.

"I'm real firm," she said with a wink. "But I do love my children."

As the school librarian, Haney is in charge of ordering books, working with teachers, talking with parents and helping kids learn to read — and to stay reading.

But those are merely the administrative functions, the types of tasks that might make for bullet points in a job description.

Haney's efforts and impact have been profound, fellow faculty said. The school districts rates the student growth in reading as "far above average," and Ward enjoys its status as a top-performing school.

Haney leads more than a dozen literacy projects throughout the school year, including hosting family reading nights, book fairs and author visits. She helps organize the school's young author and African-American committees, writes the grants seeking money for new computers and leads the "Money Savvy" program for third-graders, which helps teach tips on financial literacy.

"Our students need to be researchers and readers. If I tell them the sky is blue, they best go check it out," she said.

Haney boasts of her school's achievement in the school district's annual "Battle of the Books"  competition, where fourth- through eighth-graders are quizzed on 21 different books they've been assigned to read.

Ward has placed first in its Southwest Side Pershing Network division for the past two years, but Haney said she won't be satisfied until they win it all.

Throughout the years, she's collected mementos from her students' past accomplishments. She's got binders of them, the pages of which reveal notes and letters and photos of Haney with different hairstyles and fashions throughout the decades.

The pre-K through eighth grade school has changed dramatically over the years. Now, Asian-American students now make up more than 60 percent of Ward's student body, overshadowing the number of black, Hispanic and white students.

"It's an integrated school. It's a melting pot. But everyone gets along," she said, pausing with a smile. "In spite of me."