The wait for a new high school on northern Minnesota’s Leech Lake Indian Reservation lasted for years. Fortunately, the book drive to fill the new building’s library has been a swift success, with the overwhelming response sending a welcome message of support to students and their families.
Since the fundraiser’s April 22 debut on former U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s website, more than 1,700 donors have contributed $74,000 to the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School library. Others stepped up quickly to buy books off the Amazon wish list put together by the school’s librarian Laurie Villwock, local educators and authors.
The fundraiser is ongoing, with Villwock vowing on the GoFundMe donation site to put each dollar to good use. Franken’s ongoing commitment to the school is also appreciated. He worked doggedly in the Senate to obtain federal funding to replace the old high school, which was housed in an aging pole barn.
A 2014 Star Tribune editorial series documented the deplorable conditions at Bug school, which is located about 20 miles east of Cass Lake, and at other federally run Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools across the nation. Construction was completed last year on the new Bug high school, and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe celebrated its opening last summer with festivities attended by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
The old school lacked a gym and reliable heating, and it suffered sewage backups, among other deficits. The “library” consisted of a few lonely shelves that shared space with vending machines in a small break room.
The library at the new building is airy and spacious, and now will be stocked with books hand-picked to entice students to check them out. As one educator noted in the 2014 editorial series, if reading achievement scores are to be boosted, having books available is a must.
Students who are readers outside the classroom have a natural advantage when they are inside one. A school library brimming with selections helps make that happen.
The book drive merits Minnesotans’ continued support, with donations accepted at tinyurl.com/y5yfru5u. Given this drive’s success, Franken ought to consider launching another one to help other struggling BIE schools, which often lack adequate operational funding. The flooded Pine Ridge reservation would be a logical place to start. This campaign has momentum, and it ought to keep going.