Michael Lyons (left), 16, and Marvin Rodas, 17, carry components as they build book exchanges at Maxwell High School of Technology on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. Students are partnering with Gwinnett Coalition in the GREAT (Gwinnett Reading Exchange & Art Transforms) Little Minds initiative to provide access to books and encourage art appreciation. The student artists were building book exchanges at the school. HYOSUB SHIN / HYOSUB.SHIN@AJC.COM

Gwinnett students build tiny libraries in big literacy project

Students in Gwinnett County’s Maxwell High School of Technology are combing early learning, community involvement, career and technical education, the arts, reading, and paying it forward in a project to enhance literacy across the county.

Students in the construction trades program have begun building the components for 200 miniature libraries to be placed throughout the county — mainly in lower-income areas.

The school is partnering with Gwinnett Coalition’s GREAT program (Gwinnett Reading Exchange & Art Transforms). The GREAT Little Minds project is a public art and public awareness campaign designed to inspire the love of reading, provide access to early learning children’s books in areas where books are scarce and encourage appreciation for public art in Gwinnett County.

Related story: These Gwinnett students speak fluent French

Related story: Gwinnett schools honored for healthy environment

Related story: Gwinnett schools find success putting some classes online

The vision is to have free book exchanges, painted, adorned and transformed into works of art by local artists, in parks, churches, schools, early learning centers, health care facilities, homeless shelters, and other places where books are scarce. Anyone will be allowed to contribute or take books.

“With only 52% of Gwinnett children ready for kindergarten curriculum when they start school, we took on this big challenge to provide access to books for everyone,” said Keith Fenton, chief operating officer for Gwinnett Coalition.

As they sawed and hammered last week, the students were thrilled to be using their skills to make a difference.

“I eventually want to own my own construction business,” said senior Marvin Rodas. “Things like giving back to community will be a big part of it.”

Junior Michael Lyons agreed that Maxwell’s program is a good way to build your options.

“I’m thinking about a military career and having construction skills can certainly be a part of it,” he said.

Instructor Mike Mahaffey was eager for students to connect with a project like this.

“You get a great sense of pride when you drive by a structure that you helped build,” he said. “This will give the students the opportunity to get that sense of accomplishment earlier.”

The book exchanges will be assembled at the school for a Gwinnett Great Days of Service project, the signature event for the Gwinnett Coalition. This year is the 20th anniversary of the event, which will run Oct. 25 and 26.

Once finished, the book exchanges will be distributed to artists who will use the structures as their canvas. At least 50 of those artists will be Gwinnett County students or student groups. Artists will have from Nov. 15 to Jan. 22 to complete the works of art.

Companies, schools, civic organizations and faith-based communities are encouraged to hold book drives for new or gently-used early learning books to fill the 200 free book exchanges. In addition, sponsorship dollars received from individuals, companies, and civic or business organizations will be used to purchase new books and other supplies.

Organizers are looking for books in Spanish and other languages so immigrant parents can read to children in their native tongue.

“Gwinnett is so mulicultural that we want this to be an integral part of all communities,” said Ellen Gerstein, executive director of’ Gwinnett Coalition.

Darianny Tinece, a senior and one of a handful of girls in the class, was glad to hear that all cultures are included. As a native Spanish-speaker, she said it’s important to embrace the past and the future.

“I want to be an example to my family and this program and this project will let me do that.”

All completed book exchanges will be professionally photographed and prepared for a community-wide exhibition before being placed in the community.

The exhibition will take place in February, and it is anticipated that most of the book exchanges will be available for public use by the end of March.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X