Baldwin students collect books to help elementary school

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 9:02 p.m.

The bookshelves at Carmalt Elementary School in Brookline are thousands of books fuller as a result of a Baldwin High School student group.

The 26 students in the school's literary guild held a book drive in October, bringing in 1,240 books. The students went on a field trip to Carmalt Elementary School last month to clean the shelves, unload the books and bar code and catalogue each one, said Keith Harrison, English teacher and literary guild advisor.

“It's a perfect match for these kids,” said Harrison, calling them the smartest, most opinionated students in the building. “They have their own personal libraries.”

Carmalt's full bookshelves are among the positive results that came from posting a singular powerful photo to a Pittsburgh education blog in September.

Sheila May-Stein, a Pittsburgh Public Schools rotating librarian, took a photo of old and empty bookshelves at Manchester Elementary School on the North Side and sent it to Jessie Ramey, who runs the Pittsburgh education blog Yinzercation. A caption that ran along with it stated that if a picture is worth a thousand words, this one should be worth a thousand books.

Once on the site, the photo went viral and donations started pouring into the library. The book drive came to be known as the Manchester Miracle because of such overwhelming support from Pittsburgh residents and citizens around the world.

Harrison read about the Manchester Miracle and felt compelled to past the story along to his students, he said. Harrison posted the story to the Literary Guild's Facebook page and received almost an immediate response from the students. They wanted to help, too.

“Wouldn't it be awesome if Baldwin could give 1,000 books?” Harrison said. “And then it took off.”

The students started collecting books at the beginning of October, many donating literature from his or her own personal libraries. Harrison said he thought the group would collect maybe 200 books and he would drive them to the North Side, but the number kept growing.

“The books kept coming in,” Harrison said. “It was huge.”

The National Honor Society and parent-teacher-student association got involved with the project, too.

As more and more donations poured into Manchester Elementary School, Harrison and his students thought that their contribution could be helpful in another Pittsburgh Public Schools library. So Harrison spoke with May-Stein, who suggested the literary guild donate its books to Carmalt Elementary School.

“I think it was a huge eye-opener for these kids,” Harrison said. “There is a great need so close to where they live.”

Luke Dowker, a senior at Baldwin, donated “Goosebumps” books, the series by R.L. Stine, which was a childhood favorite.

“They were kind of hard to part with,” Dowker said. “The books that I donated were such an integral part of my childhood.”

Paige Thompson, a junior at Baldwin, donated classics such as “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein. Spending the day at Carmalt to help restore the library made Thompson more aware of the need around her, she said.

But for Harrison, the experience was another reminder of the quality of students he teaches.

“It just reminds me, yet again, how giving the kids at Baldwin are,” Harrison said. “These are kids that have their hearts in exactly the right place.”

Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or at

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