Tacoma Public Schools teacher Lucie Kroschel wants to create a lending library of anti-racist literature for her students.
Kroschel, who has been teaching English and history at the School of the Arts (SOTA) for eight years, said she sees this moment as the right time to start getting innovative about creating a more equitable public school system.
Kroschel, who is white, said she’s long been committed to working on these issues in the classroom.
In light of George Floyd’s murder and the month of protests that followed, Kroschel said she was compelled to find a new way to engage her students about race and racism.
“Now it just feels like there’s a thirst for it,” she said.
Coexisting with protests and calls for reform is the COVID-19 pandemic. Kroschel said her experiences during the transition to online classes this spring shaped her thinking about how to address these issues with her students.
Kroschel said that while the school district worked hard to get computers for students, some didn’t have internet access to attend online classes.
“I was really concerned because some kids I was able to engage with and reach out to, but other kids were just kind of off the map,” she said.
Kroschel wondered how she could make sure all students had access to anti-racist reading material, even those without internet access.
“I saw our kids, my students, going out and planning protests and offering leadership, and I thought, ‘This is a new world that we’re in,’” she said. “I want my kids who don’t have access to internet to have access to hardcover texts.”
Kroschel posted on social media about her idea to collect anti-racist books for her students, expecting to raise a few hundred dollars from friends and family.
The response to her post was enormous. Now, combining Amazon wish list orders, Venmo donations and a GoFundMe, Kroschel said she’s raised more than $7,000 in the past few weeks.
Part of the reason Kroschel landed on the idea is that SOTA, where she teaches, doesn’t have its own library. The plan for the school was that students would use downtown libraries.
Kroschel said that hasn’t worked well because of class schedules and the lack of teacher librarians in the public libraries.
With the help of some coworkers, she’s making a list of books she’ll buy for the school’s first dedicated library. She’s already gotten numerous books delivered to her house through the Amazon wish list she made.
“I’ve had a lot of books on my personal shelf or excerpted them for classes, so now to be able to get them as full texts for kids is a really big deal to me,” Kroschel said.
Nora Doyle, facilities communication coordinator for Tacoma Public Schools, said SOTA used to have a part-time librarian, but the school chose to use the funding for that position for a different staff position. She said there’s currently no physical space for a library at SOTA.
Kroschel envisions the library having two distinct uses. One half of the library will be sets of books to be used in student book clubs.
“The purpose is not just that students will do these one-off readings,” she said. “The idea that it’ll actually breed conversation and breed activism and build up what some of our kids are already trying to do.”
The other half will be reference books and independent reading books.
“Our hope is that this will be student-run,” Kroschel said. She’s starting to communicate with members of the Black Student Union at SOTA, and she said they’re excited about taking leadership on the project.
With plans for the coming school year still undecided because of COVID-19, Kroschel said she doesn’t know exactly how the library will function in the fall. But whether classes are in-person, online or a hybrid, Kroschel is confident the library will function as an important resource for students.
“We have a really supportive school community,” Kroschel said. “My hope is that if this doesn’t become some sort of library that’s traditionally set up in a room in one of our school buildings, that we can make it somehow mobile. Or when kids come in to check out laptops in the fall we can also check out books.”
Doyle said the school district plans to work on creating a similar focus on diverse books.
“We plan to review the texts that are embedded in our English Language Arts Curriculum and the supplemental novels/books that TPS has purchased and put aside funds to broaden these selections through an anti-bias lens to match what the Anti-Defamation League refers to as ‘Books as Windows and Mirrors,’” Doyle said.
The ADL says books can serve as “mirrors” that allow all children to see positive images of themselves and their communities as well as “windows” that expose children to all kinds of people and promote respect for difference and diversity.
Doyle said the district is also planning to conduct training to support teachers.
“This year Superintendent Carla Santorno charged district leadership to ensure that all Tacoma staff do a deep dive into anti-bias education and equitable practices,” Doyle said. “Training modules have been developed, and this professional learning will be required of all TPS staff in the fall and beyond. Our teachers, just like their students, need tools and strategies to facilitate sensitive critical conversations.”
‘A step in the right direction’
Kroschel sees the library as an important tool as schools, students and teachers grapple with learning and teaching about race and racism during the pandemic.
“I see doing a project like this as anti-racist work. It’s different from being ‘not racist’ or ‘diverse,’” Kroschel said. “It’s more about actively being able to discuss and call out and have hard conversations about race and racism and teach that real history, which is something I’m pretty passionate about.”
While this library is specific to her school, Kroschel said she’s talked to teachers at other Tacoma schools who are interested in adapting the idea for their own students.
Kroschel said the number of high-quality books geared toward teenagers on these issues is one reason she’s excited about the potential for the library to have a big impact.
“The most equitable option for students, especially those that don’t access to internet, is to have an old-fashioned book,” Kroschel said. “And there’s so many wonderful books out there right now.”
Kroschel has been talking to Estelita’s Bookstore & Library in Seattle, which describes itself on Facebook as a “Black/Brown owned community bookstore,” about placing orders. She said it’s important to her that the library is primarily sourced from an equitable seller.
Kroschel said she sees serious issues with racism and inequality in the public school system but hopes programs like this one can be a way to re-imagine how schools address these problems.
“A library that can be student-owned and student-led is a step in the right direction,” she said. “We have an opportunity to reinvent the system here and make it better and make it more equitable and make it truly work for the needs of the community.”
Doyle says the district supports Kroschel’s plan to start a library.
“Teachers can start a supplementary library based on the needs of their students,” Doyle said. “We commend Lucie for recognizing the needs of her students and creating a thoughtful plan for meeting them.”