2020 Catholic Schools Week
New library at St. Thomas More Catholic Academy seen as opening a ‘new world of possibilities’
Feb 3, 2020
On the day of the ribbon cutting for the new St. Jerome Library at St. Thomas More Catholic Academy in Washington, D.C., the banner outside the door showed an open book, with a rocket ship flying, a ship sailing and a castle’s tower stretching from its pages.
And cutting the ribbon was Andrew Lampkin, a 13-year-old whose Confirmation project helped make the library’s new journeys of learning and imagination possible, and Erica Jones, the school’s librarian, who that day opened its doors to classes of smiling students.
“I’m overwhelmed with joy,” Jones said moments earlier during a special ceremony at the school. “This has been such an amazing process and outcome.”
In an interview, Lampkin, a member of St. Luke Parish in McLean, Virginia, who is an eighth grader at Maret School in Washington, explained how that day came about.
“I was coming up with a community service project for my Confirmation, and I heard there was a school in D.C. that needed a new library,” he said.
Then the teen launched the St. Jerome Project for the St. Thomas More Catholic Academy library, and worked with Jones to compile wish lists of books. He spread the word about his project with friends, neighbors and parishioners. Through a related website at stjeromeproject.com, he spread the word about collecting used books, with a link for people to purchase wish list books on Amazon, and also a link to make cash donations for the project.
“I really enjoy reading, so I thought I could give kids the chance to read, because I think all kids should have the chance to read great books,” Lampkin said.
The reaction, he said, was “incredible,” and the school received more than 2,000 books for the library, and his effort inspired a donor to fund the library’s renovation, which included painting the walls, installing new floors and bookshelves, an updated library inventory system, and 30 new computer tablets.
“It’s really nothing I could have imagined,” the teen said, adding, “I’m really excited. I’m so happy the kids can see all these books and read some of my favorite books.”
Later in remarks before the ribbon cutting, Lampkin said, “I love how books have impacted my life.”
The library is named for St. Jerome, the scholar in the early Catholic Church who translated the books of the Bible into Latin and is the patron saint of libraries and librarians.
Reflecting on her school’s new library and how it came about, Jones said, “It is amazing. We have preached about the importance of reading in our school. Now to be supported by our outside community partners, it sends such a strong message to our scholars that reading is important and they are worthy.”
She noted that one girl who got a preview look at her school’s library excitedly said, “I’m about to explode!”
“Yes, I did say that,” said fifth grader Jalisa Barnes, a fifth grader who has attended St. Thomas More Catholic Academy since kindergarten. “The library was amazing. It was beautiful!”
Father Raymond Moore, the pastor of St. Thomas More Parish, offered an opening prayer, noting that parents there who believed in their children’s future and in the importance of Catholic education provided the impetus for the school’s founding in 1957, and he said St. Thomas More Catholic Academy is carrying forth that legacy as a “bright light” of hope to the Washington Highlands community. That neighborhood is part of Southeast Washington, which in recent decades has had some of the highest poverty rates in the nation’s capital.
Father Moore noted that every Sunday at Mass, he offers a special blessing for the children there.
“The blessing continues,” the priest said, praising the school and offering thanks to Lampkin for his effort to build a collection of books for its new library.
The pastor prayed that God “will bless our young with minds eager to learn, with hearts ready to love, and with lives committed to Jesus Christ.”
Guests at the ceremony included William Ryan, the superintendent and secretary for Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, and Vincent Spadoni, the president of the Consortium of Catholic Academies – four Catholic elementary schools in the city that include St. Thomas More.
Washington Auxiliary Bishop Roy Campbell Jr. blessed the new library, sprinkling holy water on it and the guests, and saying that he hoped all the children who use the library will be inspired by Christ to help create a better world.
At the ceremony, Gerald Smith Jr., the principal of St. Thomas More Catholic Academy, noted that the school’s new library was being dedicated in honor of a former teacher and student there – Larry Jones, a longtime physical education teacher, academic dean and father figure to students who died in 2018, and to Jason Plaskett Jr., a rising third grader who drowned in the summer of 2019.
In an earlier interview, Smith said Jones “really embodied our mission here and kept us together.” And in a letter to the school community after Plaskett’s death, the principal wrote that Jason had a love for learning and a love for superheroes, and he closed that letter by writing, “we know that Christ holds a special place in heaven for our dear Jason, a kingdom fit for a superhero.”
Smith presented flowers to their families, and an award to Lampkin for his support of the school.
Afterward, the families of the late student and teacher said they appreciated that remembrance.
Standing in the new library, Jason Plaskett Sr., who graduated from the school in 1996, said his namesake son “was a seeker of knowledge, and once he had that, he liked to share it with everybody. Just knowing other kids will be here reading some of the same books he read and will be seeking knowledge like he did, it means the most to me. It means my son’s legacy lives on.”
The late student’s grandmother Alena Plaskett, who taught kindergarten and first grade at the school from 1988-94, said, “I felt him (here) today. He loved books.”
Also attending the library’s dedication were family members of Larry Jones, whose daughter Aniya, a freshman at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, said, “It’s an honor. It makes me really proud to see my dad impacted so many lives.”
Smith also presented an award to Sergio Berdak, the contractor who worked on the library’s renovation with his son Mario. “I have no words,” Berdak said as he watched students streaming into the library and enjoying the books. “It’s really rewarding for me to be part of this transformation.”
Several St. Thomas More Catholic Academy students spoke at the ceremony, describing what the new school library meant to them.
“I’m excited to find new series of books and start a book club,” said third grader Kennedy King, who said later that she hopes every student there will find favorite books “and won’t stop reading!”
After the ribbon cutting, students hurried into the new library, surveying the new books there, and some soon held books in both hands, and others sat on the floor between the shelves, starting to read a new book.
“Once you come in here, it makes you want to read a book,” said seventh grader Calique Barnes.
Eighth grader Chikodili Onianwah, said she looked forward to coming to the new library during her study hall hours, “to take the time to learn and read about something new.”
Her classmate Precious Jackson said the renovated library with the bright colors on its walls “is a big step up” and said she was excited about “all of the good books to read.”
“I hope to get to read a number of books I’m interested in before I leave for high school,” she said.
Also visiting St. Thomas More Catholic Academy that morning was Aimee Viana, a deputy assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education for the U.S. Department of Education, who met with students and parents for listening sessions on the impact of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. A U.S. Senate hearing to reauthorize funding for the scholarships was held at the Catholic school last February, and Congress approved funding for it in a budget measure in December.
“What I have heard over and over again from parents is that the Opportunity Scholarship Program changes lives,” she said. “It provides their children with experiences they may not otherwise have and prepares them for a bright future.”
About 150 of the 163 students attending pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade at St. Thomas More Catholic Academy are receiving D.C. Opportunity Scholarships.
Viana said witnessing the dedication of the new library, and how a teenager helped make it possible, showed how “a community such as this inspires him to be able to be empowered to make a difference.”
The school’s principal noted it was amazing how what started as a small service project “blew up to an entire library being remodeled.”
“It is a beacon of hope for moving our school forward,” Smith said. “I’m thrilled we’ve given students something to be happy about, a place they can go to that shows them they matter.”
At the ceremony preceding the “reveal” of the new library, the principal announced that the next weekend they would start renovating the school’s stage.
The school’s librarian Erica Jones noted that students were already checking out new books, and classes were excited about seeing and using the library.
In her remarks at the ceremony before the ribbon cutting, Jones said, “The transformation of the library has been incredible and brought us well into the 21st century. The space is happy, modern and absolutely stunning. I can’t stop smiling when I see it, and I know our scholars will feel the same.”
She noted that the new books and technology open up “a whole new world of possibilities for what we can do and create. I am excited to get started on our next chapter in our new library.”
And Jones concluded her remarks by noting, “The message this new space, new technology and the many new books sends our scholars is that it’s not just those of us who work within these walls who think reading is vital and they are worthy. Andrew, the Lampkins and our community partners have joined us in our quest to build a community of readers and lifelong learners and for that, I am eternally grateful.”