​May Justus Summer Reading: Kids Love Learning

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

The summer reading program at Monteagle’s May Justus Memorial Library has become so popular, the event now occurs next door at Monteagle City Hall. What is the draw? The programs coordinated by librarian Karen Tittle make learning fun.

Last Thursday’s program featured “Covalent Bond” the science guy. “You can call me Cocoa,” he joked, calling forward volunteers to portray the sun, moon, and earth demonstrating rotational and gravitational force. In another “experiment,” the children gaped in awe watching shaving cream expand in a vacuum and tried to guess what happened to the water Bond poured in a cup. Answer: in the bottom of the cup the polymer crystal gel used in astronaut diapers absorbed the water. In the final activity of the day, each child conducted their own science experiment making bouncy balls.

The Sewanee Read to be Ready group, aptly titled Camp Curiosity, comes each week for the Thursday program.

“The background the children get here makes them more effective learners,” said Kathryn Bruce, Sewanee Elementary librarian and Camp Curiosity coordinator. “Later when they learn about what a vacuum is, for example, they’ll remember what they learned here today.”

Tittle sought out presenters whose programs embraced the state suggested Summer Reading theme, “A Universe of Stories.” Previous programs featured a ventriloquist, the Tennessee Aquarium, and the Murfreesboro Discovery Center Planetarium. The final two programs, July 11 and July 18, will feature a magician and a juggler.

Tittle coordinates an auction and other events to raise money to fund the summer reading programs, with a budget this year of just $1,500. Each week, there is also a drawing with small prizes awarded. After the program, the students travel next door to the library to check out books, which they return the following week. With attendance ranging from more than 70 to nearly 90, the tiny May Justus library buzzes with activity. Tittle praises her volunteers who shelve books and staff the checkout desk while she oversees program events. Aside from Tittle, the library has only one other paid employee who works just six hours a week.

After checking out books, the children who want to stay are treated to lunch provided by the South Cumberland Summer Meals program, a partnership between the University of the South McClurg Dining Hall and Office of Civic Engagement, the Tennessee Department of Human Services, and the South Cumberland Community Fund. Lunch often includes locally raised fruits and vegetables.

As an extra treat, last week the Chattanooga Food Bank brought bags of nutritious meal preparation ingredients for the children to take home, including fresh cabbage, spaghetti fixings, and oatmeal.

It is not the food, though, but the programs that draw the children in. Only about a third of the children stay for the meal, according to Tittle. She advertises the programs on local radio, TV, and in the newspapers. She attributes the rise in attendance this year to increased parent involvement.

“The kids want to come, but their parents need to make the effort to get them here,” she said.