UWM students raise money for MPS school libraries

Elementary school libraries are vital. But keeping them stocked with books and other resources can be challenging, especially in times when budgets are tight.  

Wesley Korpela, a master’s degree student in UWM’s School of Information Studies, is working to make sure the students at four elementary schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools system are supplied with books, quality headphones, furnishings and even a new book drop. 

Korpela, who heads the libraries at Holmes, Trowbridge, Thoreau and Burbank schools, received a $5,000 award from the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries for Trowbridge School. 

More than $50,000

In addition, he and paraprofessionals Karla Engel at Thoreau and Anne Schmidt, a UWM student working at Trowbridge, have raised more than $50,000 through the Donors Choose program for the four schools’ libraries since last October. Donors Choose is a nonprofit organization that allows educators to choose items they need, and individuals to donate directly to school projects, especially in schools with many low-income students. Donors can choose schools using teacher/librarian names or by school name or location.  

“Our budget from the district for Trowbridge is not quite $5,000, so the Laura Bush grant doubles that,” Korpela said. Buying new books allowed him to weed out older books and open up space on the shelves. “Now we’re able to start rejuvenating the library’s collection in a major way.” 

In addition to books, the Donors Choose program has given him and the paraprofessionals the opportunity to provide the school libraries with equipment like quality headphones, Lego robotics kits, thousands of pencils and even color ink for a printer needed for special projects. Engel at Thoreau raised money for Lego kits and makerspace supplies, and Schmidt raised money for books and supplies at Trowbridge.  

Ambitious plans

At Thoreau, Korpela was able to replace the library’s old, squeaky metal book return that wouldn’t lock and sometimes swung back onto children’s hands when they tried to deposit books. 

For that one, the students had a ribbon cutting in front of the new book bin, with K-4 students holding up letters that spelled out thank you to send to the donors who made it possible. 

“Next year,” said Korpela, “we have even more ambitious plans — chairs, tables, shelving and reading time carpet.”  

Korpela, who grew up in Oregon, Wisconsin, a suburb of Madison, has been taking one class at a time toward his master’s in library science at UWM while working full-time at MPS. He is taking on a fifth school library, at Hartford University School, this fall.  

He has a longtime interest in education. His mother and father were school administrators in Madison, his grandfather was a school superintendent, two of his grandparents served on school boards, and many of his cousins are teachers.  

Education has always been there as an opportunity, but I’m a writer as well. It kind of dawned on me that being a librarian was a pretty natural fit.  I love reading and writing and working with books and kids.” Korpela has undergraduate degrees in theater and creative writing from UW-Madison. 

“Serving his students”

“Wesley is continuously reflecting and working towards serving his students and teachers in the best ways possible – despite the pandemic, despite a crazy work schedule, and despite the obligations of graduate school,” said Susan Hersh, coordinator/senior lecturer in the School Library Media Certification program in the School of Information Studies. 

The students at the four elementary schools now take for granted that packages are regularly arriving at their libraries.  

The kids get very excited,” said Korpela “I always like to tell them the amount, too. Anything more than $1,000 is like winning the lottery for them.”  

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