Imagine that you are building a new house; you’ve hired the contractor; determined the cost and know the approximate date when work will be finished. Later, you realize that shelving for closets, the pantry and the kitchen were not included; therefore, you will have to find additional money to buy them. This scenario is a reality for the new Blanche School that’s under construction to replace the current building that’s been in use since the late 1940s.
When the Lincoln County School Board and the Lincoln County Commission approved a $32.2 million bond issue in 2018, which had been in the works since 2016, it included funding for the new school that has 330 students in Pre-K through eighth grades and the acquisition of 103 acres that required an investment of $1.219 million to make it build ready. The bid for the $17 million project, however, did not include a fully furnished library.
This knowledge became an “Oh!” moment for teachers and staff, who immediately went to work raising funds and evaluating what was still useable in the current library that could possibly be moved to the new school.
Years ago when the former shop was turned into the library, shelving built by Ricky Keith, was recycled. However, those shelves didn’t have backs, which meant books were constantly falling off the back. Tables and chairs are too old and worn and need to be discarded. The circulation desk needs to be refurbished with a new top. This year’s budget cuts also meant that the library only received $1,000 for books that costs on average $25 each and E-books, which are leased on a yearly basis and range from $39.95 - $100 each, according to Librarian Judy Conley, who has been teaching for 39 years.
“We will use what we can from the old library and do the best we can,” Conley shared. “Our kids are just as important as students living in Fayetteville and who have access to the public library and better Internet service. For some [of our students], the school library is the only access they have to books.”
Conley said that students who attend Blanche School prefer having a book in hand rather than reading from a tablet; adding that many of their students really enjoy reading. Plus, many begin reading a series and ask if the librarian can get the next book for them. Students can add their book requests to the list kept in the library. Conley, who is an avid reader and has always possessed a love of reading, said she does everything she can to get these books for students.
“There is nothing better than putting a book in the hands of a child,” Conley said. “I encourage our students to read to others, whether it’s a brother or sister, mom or dad, a pet or the mirror. Reading is so important in the education of our children and it is beneficial throughout their lives.”
School Principal Christy Wright said when plans to build the new school were announced, “it never occurred to us that the library wouldn’t be fully furnished.”
And it probably never occurred to these teachers that they would have to add fund raising to their job descriptions. Yet, at the heart of every great teacher lies kindness, positivity, the desire to build something and the will to inspire.
Wright said the new school is much needed although at first the community had feared losing its school and a portion of its heritage. “Once we reassured everybody we are always going to be the Bulldogs, we are always going to have our school colors, and we’re going to take our class pictures with us and hang them, and that we’re going to keep the unity, and we’re just going to put it in a nice, brand new building, I think everyone relaxed and became excited.”
Blanche and its surrounding communities have had a school dating back to 1875 beginning with Blanche Male and Female Academy. Before 1926, Blanche was only a three-year high school. It later became a four-year high school. That school burned on January 17, 1947 and when the current building was built on the same site it was described as “one of the largest and best equipped in Lincoln County.” In 2002, Blanche became an elementary school.
Knowing the importance of the school library for students is the motivating factor behind fund raising and this need is being shared throughout the community.
Due to COVID-19, the school was unable to host its annual Harvest Festival, the largest annual fundraiser for the school. Rather than forego raising funds, the school hosted a Basket and Cake Auction. Items were donated to create baskets and those fabulous cooks in the community baked cakes that sold for more than $100 each. Fowler Auction oversaw the auction at no cost to the school and raised $4,000 for the new library.
Recently, Conley and Wright learned that the library would receive a $500 grant from Delta Kappa Gamma and the Retired Teachers of Lincoln County.
Teresa Brown, who serves as president of both organizations, heard of the need for books for Blanche School’s new library and reached out to Wright about the availability of the grant. Brown, who taught school for many years and is involved with Imagination Library of Lincoln County that promotes childhood literacy, said Blanche school could truly utilize these monies.
When Wright asked Conley to apply for the grant, “Judy had it submitted within the hour.”
Then when Rachel Evelyn Moyer Harwell, who taught elementary education in Lincoln County and in Michigan, passed away in November, Brown contacted family members to see if memorials could be made to the Blanche School Library. Through the generosity of this memorial, the library will receive at least $1,000.
This memorial was especially meaningful to Conley because her mother Barbara Simmons and Rachel Harwell were friends from childhood.
During this season of giving, what better gift than books for students at Blanche School? Donations can be made to Blanche School Library, Attn.: Judy Conley, Librarian, 1649 Ardmore Highway, Taft, TN 38488.