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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
November 2, 2007
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at a Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries Gulf Coast School Library Recovery Initiative Grant Announcement
Benjamin Banneker Elementary School
New Orleans, Louisiana
9:49 A.M. CDT
MRS. BUSH: Thank you so much, Troinoka, and thanks to everyone who's here today. And I want to say a special congratulations to all the schools, the representatives from the schools that are receiving Gulf Coast School Library Recovery grants today.
And especially I want to thank everyone here at Benjamin Banneker. Thank you so much, Principal Branche, for letting us host all of the grant award winners here at your school. And I especially want to say thanks to the children for letting us be here and getting to see your school and having this chance to be here with you all.
When George was running for office, for President, in 2000, I visited a lot of schools. And one thing I noticed was that a lot of school libraries, especially in neighborhoods where children might not have had a lot of books at home, were in really bad shape. I would visit schools, and their whole library would be an old set of encyclopedias, or one very old almanac. And so when George was elected, I decided that I wanted to start a foundation that would give money to school libraries, specifically to school libraries.
So we started that in 2001. And we've given to schools all over the country, and these are sort of small grants, but they're enough for schools to add to their already existing school collections. We've given in every state. We've given in a number of the territories, U.S. territories; of course, in the District of Columbia.
And so we were just about to stop our foundation board -- the board was going to disperse because we had raised the money we wanted to raise and we could give these grants around the country -- when the hurricanes hit. And in fact, we were having our last board meeting. And so at that meeting, I said to all those fundraisers who were on the board, why don't we keep raising money and give it -- as much as we can raise, and whatever we raise from now on we will give all of it to Gulf Coast libraries.
And these are much larger grants. These are grants to stock a whole library. And a lot of people may not realize it costs about $50,000 to stock a basic elementary school collection, and a high school collection costs around -- could cost around $150,000 or more.
So these are larger grants for schools to restock or build a whole collection, and they're for schools, obviously, who lost their collections in the hurricanes.
One thing that I'm very proud of Pam and of the other library experts -- librarians and library experts who are the ones who actually read your grants and pick the schools, is one thing they've done for these grant recipients, the ones who are rebuilding a whole library from scratch, is that they have a workshop, which all of you will be invited to -- I think it's in December. They want the librarian and the principal, if possible, to come. And they work with you to show you how to build a whole library, because most librarians have only had to add to a collection. They've never had to build an entire collection.
And we wanted each of your collections to reflect the needs of your students, to reflect the curriculum that you're teaching, and to really be a big asset to your school.
And so I'm happy that Pam and the library experts who serve on the advisory board of the foundation have taken this time to make sure you all know how to build a whole library.
The other thing is, if you all order together, which you may or may not want to do, you can get better prices. So that's also an option when you're working to order your whole collection.
I'm so happy that today we're joined by Paul Pastorek. Thank you so much, Paul, for everything you're doing for the whole state of Louisiana to make sure schools are rebuilt so people can come back to their own neighborhoods.
Phyllis Landrieu is here. She's the President of the Orleans Parish Public Schools. Thank you, Phyllis, so much for joining us as well.
Darrel Kilbert from Orleans Parish Schools, the Superintendent, is here as well. And then the principals and the librarians from every school that are receiving grants. So thank you all so much.
Marshall Payne is here from Dallas. Pam recognized him. He's the one who said at this meeting, why don't we just raise cash for cash; whatever we can raise for the Gulf Coast we'll give away. And I said, okay, Marshall, you can be the fundraiser. (Laughter.) So he's the co-chairman with Pam, and they've been very excellent at it. In fact, I urge all the schools across the Gulf Coast that are being rebuilt to apply for these grants. We want to be able to help every single school build a really good and diverse and strong book collection for their students.
Schools are essential to the recovery that's underway. We know that young people who've endured trauma heal best when they can go back to their normal routine in their own school. So after the hurricane, teachers and school superintendents and state school officials faced what is an unprecedented task. This has never really happened in our history. And that is the rebuilding of whole school districts, of every school in the school district. And that's happened all the way across the Gulf Coast.
According to the Department of Education, over a thousand public and private schools were damaged or destroyed, sending more than 372,000 students to new classrooms in all 50 states. Today in New Orleans, more than 80 public schools are open; nearly half of them run as charter schools. And public school enrollment has increased about 20 percent over last year. So that means kids are coming home, and that's terrific.
In September 2005, the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries established this foundation's Gulf Coast School Library Recovery. And so far we've awarded more than $3 million to 65 schools across the Gulf Coast. (Applause.) That's 65 schools in Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Texas -- one each in Florida and Texas -- and then now the first school in Alabama, Alba Middle School, which makes the 66th school. And they're receiving a grant for $40,000. So congratulations to the first Alabama school. (Applause.)
We're also awarding grants to schools that are in the Louisiana Recovery School District, including Benjamin Banneker School. The RSD is a special state school district administered by the Louisiana Department of Education, and it's made up of 60 public schools. Established in 2003, the Recovery School District is designed to take underperforming schools and transform them into successful educational institutions for children.
Most of the Crescent City's schools were transferred to the RSD by the Louisiana state legislators in 2005, so the Recovery School District has been tasked with opening new schools to meet the needs of New Orleans' returning population.
And as they welcome children back to the city, they're also upgrading their own curriculums to make sure that children are being taught at grade-level standards. They're also improving education for older children by distributing laptops to high school students, and they're expanding reading interventions to include 4th through 11th graders.
Thanks to all the representatives of the Recovery School District who are here with us today for your work to improve education in New Orleans. And congratulations to the Recovery School District schools that are receiving Laura Bush grants.
Thanks to the generous support of philanthropic organizations, businesses and caring citizens from across the United States -- and I want you to know that. You know already that people around the whole country are doing what they can to help you recover, and they certainly have been very generous to the Laura Bush Foundation, which has allowed us to be generous to these schools as they open.
One of the grants being awarded today is to the Alternative Learning Institute, which is a correctional facility here of incarcerated young women. The school benefits from an outstanding reading program and incredibly dedicated teachers.
Before Katrina, students at the Learning Institute used the school library to learn job skills, like the students would volunteer to catalogue or shelve books and magazines. Many of the students, of course, have their own children, and the separation while they're incarcerated is difficult both for the moms and for their babies. So the Alternative Learning Institute runs a programs for inmates where young women choose a book to read, they read it in front of a video, and then the mom's tape and the book are sent home to her child, so that even while they're apart, these children can enjoy reading with their mothers.
Hurricane Katrina completely destroyed the Alternative Learning Institute's library, but the staff at the Alternative Learning Institute is determined to rebuild, so today they'll get a grant of a $70,000 grant for their library. (Applause.)
And of course, Benjamin Banneker is the recipient of another grant. Benjamin Banneker School was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Every single student that was here before left the city, and only a few of the previous Banneker students have returned. Most of the children who were students at Benjamin Banneker before the storm are now in other states.
Katrina also destroyed the Banneker library collection, but Hurricane Katrina couldn't diminish Banneker's school spirit. Banneker is the first Recovery School District school to reopen after Katrina, and you welcomed every child who wanted to come here. (Applause.)
Today, nearly one-fifth of the children at Banneker are considered special-needs students. And all of the children -- not to mention the teachers and the staff -- are still struggling in the aftermath of the storm. Students and staff are living in trailers, they're moving between family members, and they're navigating long drives, long commutes, to come to school every day.
That's the amazing thing about the recovery of schools across the Gulf Coast. The teachers and the principals and the school board members were also in FEMA trailers, or living with family members and having to drive a long distance to get to their schools. And so that really shows the dedication of the education community all the way across the Gulf Coast, and I congratulate you and thank you all for your devotion to your students.
The staff at Banneker knows how to keep the school community together, and they do it with books. They know that Benjamin Banneker students love to read. "Before Katrina, we had family reading nights and kids took books home," Principal Branche says. "Now, parents don't have any books at home." So part of the school's grant money will be used to provide take-home book bags filled with activities and books for children and their parents to enjoy together.
Sister Noel explains that the grant will purchase library books that are relevant to the students' culture and background, and add biographies of historical figures that the students are interested in -- like Benjamin Banneker himself. The library will add books and learning materials for special-needs students so they'll have the academic resources to succeed in school.
Sister Noel says, "For the first time, the kids are going to be able to check out books that are meaningful and are of interest to them."
If you want to know how much these books mean to kids, just ask Benjamin Banneker's students. Earlier this week, Sister Noel asked Carnisha Tassin what she did when she was evacuated and wasn't in school. And Carnisha said, "Well, I just read the whole time."
With the $50,000 grant the school is receiving, Carnisha and all of Banneker's students will be able to fill their days with reading. Banneker is just one of the 14 schools receiving the grants, and this is the fifth round of Gulf Coast School Library Recovery grants. Congratulations to each one of the representatives here for all the work you do, and thank you for the hard work you're doing to rebuild your schools.
As we celebrate today's awards, I also want to encourage schools throughout the region to apply for grants. These awards can help bring books back to school libraries, and rebuilt school libraries will bring children back to their schools, and rebuilt schools will bring families back to the Gulf Coast.
So thank you all. Thank you, every one of you, for not giving up on your scohols. Thank you for keeping your sense of community spirit alive and well here.
Congratulations to each one of the grant recipients. May God bless you all and may God bless the children. (Applause.)
END 10:04 A.M. CDT