NORTH BENNINGTON -- The culmination of months of hard work, four students at the Southshire Community School this week unveiled two new "community libraries," which they hope will spread the joys of reading throughout the community.
One of the wooden structures, which stand about four feet tall and feature two shelves for books, will remain at the school, while the other is being auctioned off to a local business. The winner of the silent auction will be announced at the school's production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," on Wednesday, June 11, at 7 p.m. The libraries contain a selection of books, and community members are encouraged to borrow the books, or take them and replace them with others.
The four students, Sam, Jane, Andrais, and Harlan, have worked with parent and craftsman Kirk Fox since the end of October. Fox, who describes himself as a cabinet maker but often works on things other than cabinets, worked with the students, whose ages range between 9 and 12, on most Mondays for about two hours. The students learned how to use fractions and measurements to create the libraries, and did most of the work by hand. The only electric tools they used, according to the students, were a cordless drill, Fox's mortising machine, and the laser used to etch the school's logo onto the glass door.
Asked what their goals had been at the beginning of the project, Jane simply replied, "Lots and lots of books."
"When we talked about it initially," said teacher Jude Fitzgerald, "the project really came out of their love of literature." By Thanksgiving, only a few weeks after the project began, donations of books began arriving at the school. Now, they have several boxes of donated books inside the school, waiting for space to be made available in the library.
Fitzgerald was impressed with how much his students had learned working on the project, and said that one of them had told him, "All of a sudden, fractions make sense!"
Harlan said one of the biggest challenges they faced was in the details. "The hardest part," he said, "was when we would spend a lot of time cutting, and then we find out it's just a little bit off, and we have to cut it all over again."
Fox has already agreed to return and do another project with the students next year. While he doesn't know exactly what that project will entail, he said he hopes to get more of the school's students involved.
Besides donating his time, Fox also donated all of the materials for the project, including recycled hinges and shingles from old projects. He also took the group on a field trip to Tom Duffy's laser engraving studio in Cambridge, New York. Duffy showed the students around the studio, and demonstrated how he does his work, before engraving the school's name and logo on the glass doors of both libraries.
While most of the students said that seeing the lasers in actions was their favorite part of the project, Andrais said that his favorite part was the learning. "I learned a lot more than I'm used to, it was cool," he said.
Fox said that his favorite part of the project was, "watching everybody's confidence level go up. They became more comfortable with the tools, and the routine of getting set up in the morning and cleaning everything up at the end of the day."
At least one of the students plans on taking his newfound carpentry knowledge and using it at home, with Harlan saying that he was planning on working with his dad to build a doghouse.
"It wasn't any one person's project," said Fox, "It was something built with something bigger in mind."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB