The Waukegan Public Library was recently awarded the Upstart Innovation Award by the Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association.
Formerly the Highsmith Innovation Award, this honor recognizes a public library's innovative and creative service program to the community.
This national award, sponsored by Upstart, a Demco Company, recognizes the library's Bus to Us field- trip program, which brings thousands of elementary schoolchildren to the library throughout the year for engaging, curriculum-guided visits.
In past years, the Illinois Library Association's Highsmith Innovation Award went to the library's Early Learning Center, a children's hands-on learning museum created to address pre-literacy needs among Waukegan children ages 7 and younger, and its annual Ray Bradbury Storytelling Festival.
Bus to Us is fully funded by the Harold M. and Adeline S. Morrison Foundation, including the cost of the transportation and curriculum development. The Bus to Us program was created in 2011 when the library realized that the school district field trip budget had been cut and many schoolchildren had no way to travel to the library.
After a search for sponsors to cover the costs of busing, the Morrison Family Foundation donated enough funds to fully subsidize the costs of weekly bus trips for thousands of students from schools throughout Waukegan. Since the program was implemented, more than 2,000 students have participated in the program.
This year, Bus to Us curriculum is tied to the Early Learning Center theme, "Oink, Baa, Moo: Farm Fun," which allows students to experience life on a farm with interactive displays on gardening, dairy products, and animal sounds.
In addition, students can milk a life-size fiberglass milking cow and watch chicks hatch in an incubator. Children's librarians present educational programs on soil, erosion, seasons, crops, and animal life.
The library is currently scheduling 26 field trips to the library this spring and fall and is on track to bring 1,300 students to the library. Interested teachers and principals from Waukegan schools, public and private, should call David Villalobos at (847) 623-2041, ext. 234, to schedule a date for their class.
Field trips run every Friday throughout the school year and are filling up quickly.
The Waukegan Public Library has also been selected as one of 44 public libraries in 21 states to receive a one-time grant of $15,000 for its "Promotoras Ambassador Program."
The American Dream Starts @ Your Library grant is a literacy initiative for adult English language learners and their families. Funds will be used to help the library build its print and digital ESL collections, increase computer access and raise the visibility of library services for immigrant populations in Waukegan.
The Waukegan Public Library's Promotoras Ambassador Engagement Program was founded in January 2012. It sends specially trained volunteers directly into the Latino community to better understand the barriers keeping Latinos from succeeding.
Based on the findings of the Promotoras, the library has created new English Language Learner classes focused on literacy needs, such as Conversational ESL, Spanish Pre-GED, Citizenship study groups, and an online program helping students read in Spanish.
After only a year, the Promotoras registered more than 800 new Latino library patrons, and more than half of those are now participating in programs and checking out materials on a regular basis.