Making Dream a Reality: VAMS Students Fundraising for Innovative New Library

Rodney WilliamsManaging Editor

It would be understandable if Van Alstyne Middle School principal Ryan Coleman felt as though his campus was getting a raw deal. Van Alstyne ISD has, after all, spent millions of dollars in the past year on add-ons and new facilities at the elementary and high schools, the two other campuses in the district. Coleman, however, does not feel that way in the least, acknowledging that while the other campuses were quickly running out of room, his own campus has room to spare.

In truth, VAMS is in great shape for the coming years, especially once the district’s second elementary school comes online. Still, there are projects to be done at the school and no district funds forthcoming with which to get them accomplished. Thank goodness for the kids.

In this case, those kids are VAMS Student Senate members who are pushing to make a dream a reality. Those kids, not to mention Coleman and assistant principal Kelly Moore, are thinking big, attempting to raise more than $56,000 to rebuild the school’s library into something truly special.

It all got started when Mandi Brown, a science teacher at VAMS, did training at Mabank Junior High and saw its groundbreaking library. She came back and told Coleman and Moore about the library and the seeds of an idea were planted. Coleman and Moore began talking about taking the first-year Student Senate to the school and getting their thoughts. The entire Student Senate took the field trip to Mabank to check out for themselves what all the fuss was about.

“We were pretty blown away,” said Coleman. “It’s amazing, an awesome place for their kids.”

It should be noted here that Mabank Junior High’s library is not your typical school library. The library is one of the new-think libraries just beginning to sprout up across the country, challenging pre-conceived notions on what a library should be and challenging kids to think outside the box. Individual computer workstations, a large door opening into a wide-open seating area and a presentation stage tell visitors immediately that Mabank is onto something as the facility is attracting students not typically drawn in to a library.

Coleman and company returned to Van Alstyne and begin planning.

“What ideas did we like? What do we want to do? What ideas do we have that they don’t have,” recalled Coleman. “We took the elements we liked from theirs and came up with things we envisioned for our kids to come up with the design.”

And what a design. From that trip in September has sprung the concept of a library not seen in any district the size of Van Alsyne, nor any district anywhere in the area. The plan is to use the current space as there isn’t room for expansion. In addition to computer workstations running around the library with computers kept in a storage cubby for students to pull out and use, plans call for moving all the books to one end of the library and using all that space for a stage and a tree house. That’s right, a tree house. In reality, it probably won’t be a “tree” but an elevated treehouse-style structure with platform steps leading upward. The space will serve as a great reading area for students and add a striking visual to the library.

Then there’s the Maker’s Space, an area where kids can go and build and tinker, whether it be with magnetic circuit boards, electronic Legos or even a 3D printer. Students will be able to take apart old VAISD computers no longer in regular service and see how they work and put them back together again. The robotics team will have a place to ply their craft. Maybe the coolest part of the Maker’s Space will be the Idea Paint. This special (and expensive) wall paint allows any surface to be used as a white board. Students will be able to write down their ideas on any wall coated with Idea Paint.

“Kids can jot out their ideas on there. We may have every wall with Idea Paint or maybe just one, I don’t know,” said Coleman.

For those students who simply want to go into the library to read, a reading lounge will be built. This is an enclosed room with comfortable furniture which kids can enter, shut the door and shut out the noise behind them and lose themselves in a book. This idea, just as the tree house, came from the minds of VAMS students.

“Our vision is to become the premier middle school in Texas; that’s our goal,” said Coleman. “The kids know it, the staff knows it, we talk about it all the time. A space like this helps set us apart, it makes us different. I think it puts us ahead of pretty much everybody.”

“As a student, I’m really looking forward to seeing how it turns out because it’s going to be an awesome place to come,” said sixth grade Student Senate member Peyton Mann. “The people I’ve talked to are really, really excited about it.”

Now the hard part: How to pay for all this? In Mabank, the district footed the entire $125,000 cost. And while Coleman has kept the cost down on VAMS’ project, $56,000 and change is nothing to sneeze at, and this figure is not inclusive of all costs. To kick off the fundraising, VAMS has set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations from the public at large. Then there will be a Community Presentation. Student Senate members will get five invitations each that they can pass out to anyone who might be interested in supporting the project. This will happen in mid-to-late February and will serve as the students’ pitch to potential “investors.”

Additionally, students plan on sending personalized messages to heavy-hitters, wealthy individuals who have a heart for philanthropy. Coleman is working all the angles to make the project a reality. The students want to do a floor similar to the one in Mabank, in this case a bare concrete floor with wax on top. Who would pull up the old flooring? What happens if there are cracks underneath? Will they need to float it? Luckily, one of VAMS’ teachers’ extended family owns a flooring business and they are already working out the particulars, which should be much cheaper than having a flooring company come in. No stone is being left unturned.

Support has already been pledged as the school district has said it will match the first $10,000 collected for the new library. Coleman said there are things the school could begin working on right now but the big jobs — flooring, tree house and stage construction — would have to be done over the summer but could be ready for the next school year.

Sixth grade Student Senate member Clay Graham said he just wants to see his fellow students get excited about going to the library.

“I think it will definitely reach out to more students so more students will come and learn in the library,” said Graham. “It will reach out to a bigger array of people.

“I just want to see students enjoy it; that’s the big goal.”

To donate to the project, go to https://www.gofundme.com/7rtukjpz.