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Kids Sell Lemonade, Donate Toy Money to Save School Library

By Julie Shapiro | April 25, 2012 2:24pm

EAST VILLAGE — The Neighborhood School is rallying to save its beloved library from budget cuts — with kids hosting a lemonade stand, offering $1 manicures and even donating money that they were saving up for toys in a $40,000 fundraising push.

Parents recently launched the fundraising campaign after hearing that the East Village public elementary school would likely have to shrink its budget next fall, putting funding for its library, which was built from scratch after 9/11, at risk.

Over the past three years, the Neighborhood School, on East Third Street, has already been forced to eliminate its assistant principal, literacy coach and math coach and has cut funding to professional development, paraprofessionals and arts residencies after losing tens of thousands of dollars in budget reductions, parents said.

"There's nothing more left — the only untouched line item was the library," said Marjorie Ingall, a PTA member. "We're going to fight like hell."

Cuts have not been determined and having a library is not required by the Department of Education.

The school, where about 40 percent of the students qualify for free lunch, has already raised nearly $28,000, and it's not just from the parents. Several students started an after-school lemonade stand, others are offering $1 manicures on the playground, one girl sold handmade bracelets and another donated all the money she was saving for an American Girl doll, Ingall said.

The Neighborhood School shares the library with P.S. 63, another elementary school in the same building, and the two schools split the annual cost of new books and a salary for librarian Cheryl Wolf.

If the Neighborhood School cannot pay its share of expenses, Wolf would have to leave and the Neighborhood School students would lose access to the library's 12,000 books, Ingall said.

Wolf arrived at the Neighborhood School eight years ago and built the entire library from scratch, using a post-9/11 grant from the Carnegie Corporation. She has a reputation for igniting children's desire to read, using everything from graphic novels to books on kid-friendly topics like subways.

"If you pick the right thing for them and they like it," Wolf said, "they trust you and can move out of their comfort zone."

The library often draws a line of students eager to get inside, and many students give up their recess time to help out in the library, checking out books and making decorative informational signs, Wolf said.

"It's a really vital and busy place for our school," Wolf said. "I can't really imagine the school without the library."

The Neighborhood School will host a $25-per-person fundraiser at 6 p.m. May 13 at McNally Jackson Books, 52 Prince St., with Gloria Steinem and Gail Collins. The school is also accepting donations online.