LONGMONT — The literacy team at Loma Linda Elementary school was hoping for 500 books. But it got 5,000 from students who don’t even attend there, signifying the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Patterned after the “sister city” program where U.S. and international communities partner to foster fellowship and understanding, Loma Linda and Niwot Elementary have formed the district’s first “sister school” relationship, according to its organizers.
The schools’ principals, Kristi Venrick of Loma Linda and Mike Keppler of Niwot, attended graduate school together at the University of Northern Colorado.
So, at a meeting earlier this school year, the former classmates pondered, “Wouldn’t it be cool if our schools could do something together?”
Still in its infancy, the sister school relationship began in December when Niwot students collected new and used books for an exchange library at Loma Linda.
The Niwot students collected more than 5,000 books and donated some of their Support Our School funds to Loma Linda to buy additional books, Venrick said.
“The support is absolutely overwhelming,” she said.
Loma Linda students each received one book in late January that they could choose to either keep or trade in at the exchange library, its first Book Trade day held Feb. 1.
Organizers hoped 12 students would show up. Instead, nearly 80 children came.
Loma Linda plans to meet every Tuesday for the exchange library, but will scale down to once a month, perhaps even through the summer, said literacy teacher Sharon Bonner.
She said the exchange library, which included categories of English and Spanish picture, nonfiction and chapter books, gave children more investment in reading.
“It puts that sense of ownership in the kids’ hands,” she said.
Both principals said the sister school relationship was reciprocal; now they are developing other projects the two schools can collaborate on, such as a pen pal or reading buddy program.
Keppler called the sister school program a “good lesson in giving.”
“I am continually amazed by this community and how generous our students and parents are,” he said. “The best part of it was the excitement the children had, being able to give books to someone they know would really enjoy and use them. Some kids were even bringing in their favorite books from home because they were eager to share with someone else.”
On Feb. 1, the sharing began as Loma Linda students, some with their parents, lined up after school to enter the cafeteria where tables and boxes were loaded with donated books, including topics such as sharks, Valentine’s Day, Fat Albert, Harry Potter, Scooby-Doo and The Littles.
Fourth-grader Marisol Mendoza quickly picked a book, “The Boxcar Children No. 1,” even though she already had read it.
Other students, like first-grader Phoenix Bice, poured over each table. Bice was the last of 77 students to leave the exchange library that day as he hunted for a Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh! book, a hot topic for elementary school boys.
“He was so excited when he hopped in the truck,” said his mother, Kristine Bice. “He turned down the music and asked us very seriously if we could go to the exchange library now. Initially, he had a hard time reading at all, so anytime he’s excited to read, we’re all over that.”
Kristine Bice, with her husband, Sean, and other son Hunter, 2, tried to sway Phoenix with Mother Goose and other literary finds. But mom and dad found childhood favorites themselves.
“I used to read this as a kid,” Sean Bice said as he held up a black bound book.
With permission from the literacy teacher, and a promise from the dad to bring in a book for trade, both father and son left Loma Linda with books, one about mystic places, the other about pet hamsters.
Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.