In a diverse community such as San Diego, improved literacy and learning English as a second language are important issues faced in every school classroom. To increase public awareness of the value of the public library for all in our community and recognize students for educational achievement, Jack Winer established a city-wide essay contest reaching out to elementary and high school students from 165 public and more than 70 non-public schools in San Diego. Topics are designed to encourage students writers to reflect on a variety of subjects such as The Importance of Libraries to the Community and Volunteering in Your Community.
The essay contest crosses economic and racial lines and offers all students in grades 4, 8 and 10 the opportunity to enter. One winner last year was a former runaway who had attempted to take her own life. In her essay, she wrote about how the book, “Go Ask Alice,” had helped her overcome her despair and move forward in her life.
Another child wrote about his reading difficulties until he discovered in the fourth grade, that he could read Dr. Seuss books with success. He overcame his fear and difficulty in reading through this author. Another winner accompanied school officials to Sacramento to present to the Governor of California his essay on the importance of public libraries for the people.
Jack Winer is gifted in mobilizing large groups and bringing them together to work toward a common goal. To create such a successful program, Winer motivated so many to participate, including The Friends of the San Diego Public Library (membership 5,000); the San Diego Public Library (main library and 33 branches); the San Diego Unified School District (administration, teachers, school librarians and the PTA); citizens (local newspaper writers, elected officials, civic leaders) and Corporate Sponsors (Seaworld, Barnes and Noble, Qualcomm, San Diego Padres, Office Depot), and of course students, parents and primary care givers.
Since its founding, the contest has grown in both the number of participating schools and the number of entrants with 1,200 students participating last year. The contest has become an ongoing project under the wing of the Friends of the San Diego Public Library.
Certainly when one child learns to read and write an impact is made in the life of that child. Society gains, too. Literacy changes lives. The city-wide essay contest helps the San Diego community to focus on the value of the public library (open and free to all), the importance of learning to read, and the power of self expression through the written word.
Winer created a program that did not previously exist in San Diego. San Diego is America’s sixth largest city. Winer’s idea, and his success in bringing together many diverse groups in a new and different way to promote student use of the public library is innovative.