Two Teens Team With Blue Manatee Literacy Project to Create Library at LEAP Academy

September 13, 2021

By Jolene Almendarez, 91.7 WVXU

The LEAP Academy in North Fairmount has been open for five years and never got a library. Two teenagers are determined to change that.

Mercy McAuley High School Junior Ava Surendorff heard through a family friend the LEAP Academy didn't have a library. So she teamed up with her friend Jiya Patel and the Blue Manatee Literacy Project to make a library.

"We believe the library will be a source of joy and knowledge and inspiration for many of the students at LEAP Academy, and It'll definitely affect the students at LEAP Academy for years to come, as well," Surendorff said. "So, we really think it will be a lasting impact kind of project."

Their goal is to raise $16,000 for 1,500–2,000 books by the winter holidays so Surendorff and Patel can help set up the library during winter break.

They both grew up reading childhood classics like the Junie B. Jones series. They both said having access to books early on ensured they kept reading and they want to make sure other kids have the same opportunity.

That's especially important at the LEAP Academy, which is a dual language school for kids from kindergarten to sixth grade. Of the 450 students at the school, about half of them are learning English as a second language.

The dual language aspect of the school is especially close to their hearts because their dads immigrated to the United States from different countries.

"My dad is from India," Patel said. "So I do understand how important it is for a child to adapt to a second language; it can be very difficult for them."

Surendorff's dad is from South Africa.

LEAP Academy Principal David Conger says he plans to convert an already existing space at the school into the library, which will have books in English and Spanish.

But Surendorff and Patel, he said, have been the main drivers behind the project, arranging to meet with him and connecting with the Blue Manatee Literacy Project to get it underway. They've also connected with their school community to host a fundraiser through the literacy organization on behalf of the LEAP Academy.

"Their passion and their drive made this happen (which) has been so heartwarming and amazing for their school community, but just what it's gonna mean for our kids, we're super excited about it," Conger says.

He says students at the academy currently have access to books digitally, but having a library would increase accessibility to books.

Full story and photos at WVXU.org.

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