Owen McVety, a first grade student at Clarks Summit Elementary School, said he already visits the Abington Community Library a lot — at least every other week — but he now has reason to drop by more often.
On Jan. 8, he and his sister Anna tested out the library’s two new computer stations, which were installed earlier in the week. Both the Early Literacy Station, recommended for ages 2-8, and the After School Edge, by AWE Digital Learning Solutions, provide educational games and interactive activities in a variety of subjects.
Although he was barely able to scratch the surface of all the systems have to offer, Owen said he thinks his favorite might be the “Lego game,” which “looks really cool.”
He said what he likes most about the new equipment is “that you can play on them and learn on them.”
Norah Rickaby, a second grade student at Mill City Elementary School was also at the library exploring the After School Edge. After scoring 100 percent on a fast-paced timed math game, she said she likes the system because “you can come and get more of what you learned in school that day.”
The kids aren’t the only ones who are enthusiastic about the machines, however. According to Library Director Leah Rudolph, so is the library staff.
“They’re super cool,” she said, echoing McVety’s sentiment.
Rudolph said one benefit to the stations is the absence of age-inappropriate content, which is always a risk with devices connected to the Internet. She said they also give the children yet another reason to visit the library, which helps develop an interest in reading.
One young patron, Lauren Friedman, after tearing herself away from a Dora the Explorer game on the Early Literacy Station, looked up at Rudolph with pleading eyes, and asked, “Can I borrow a book? Please?”
Laura Gardoski, head of children’s services, said another benefit of the stations is the opportunity they provide for kids to experiment and learn in a low-pressure environment without having to worry about grades or people telling them they are doing something wrong.
“They are able to learn in a fun way at their own pace,” she said.
Nancy Burke, assistant children’s director, added the machines are self-explanatory and easy for the children to pick up on and operate. She said their features, while similar, are a little different than traditional computer games, and they are perfect for a wide range of ages.
The two stations cost $3,000 each, money well spent, according to the staff. One was purchased with a portion of the funds raised through the library’s Dorothy Boccella 2013 Holiday Marketplace fundraiser, held Nov. 9. The other was obtained through a grant, written by Marywood University Department of Communications graduate student Margie King as a graduation requirement.
King, who graduated summa cum laude in December, said the affiliation with the library and working with Rudolph were “highlights” of her graduate studies.
“Preparing a real world grant is a new feature of the program,” King said, “and made all the difference to me and my class members. We were all allowed to pursue a project that was personally meaningful to us with tangible, practical results. I approached the library because of my passion for literacy, early childhood education and libraries in general. Luckily, Leah Rudolph had an opportunity involving the children’s computers, and the timing was right for me to help obtain grant money.”
She said the grant writing process included interviews with the staff at the Scranton Children’s Library, where an AWE station was already in use, demographic research and more.
“Steps for writing the grant included lots of phone calls, emails and online research,” she said. “I learned that by the time the final document is composed, the connections that have developed are really the most important part of the process. And completing the documentation is really just the beginning of an ongoing relationship with the community being served.”
“Part of the library’s mission,” King later added, “is to prepare citizens to be lifelong learners, and the new AWE computers start the youngest learners on this path.”
Rudolph pointed out this is one goal the Abington Community Library and the AWE company have in common, the Early Literacy Station’s tag line being “Opening the door to a lifetime of learning” and the library’s “commitment to lifelong learning.”