The Ascend Library Project

Ascend Learning is seeking funds to build a permanent library that will serve as the hub of intellectual growth, shared knowledge, and digital learning in the new Brooklyn Ascend Middle School. In September 2012, the Middle School will move into its permanent facility, where a 800 sq. ft. room will be set aside for the construction of a state-of-the-art library. The number of students and faculty using the library will more than double in 2012-2013 and double again the following year.

We need a library that will accommodate Brooklyn Ascend Middle School’s growth over the next five years. Your support will help us build the library and expand our collection of books from 4,000 to 6,000 by the end of 2012. This library will be a place of joyous discovery and the cornerstone of Ascend scholars’ intellectual lives. We are designing it as a scalable model for every Ascend school and for similar public schools nationwide.

Steven Wilson, Founder and President of Ascend Learning Inc., Elizabeth Schmidt, lead developer of the Ascend Humanities initiative, and Eunice Chao, Brooklyn Ascend Middle School Director speak about the Ascend library project.
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New Ascend Middle School Library. designed by Andersen-Miller Architecture

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Flexible design for small-group work and large-group presentations

About Ascend

Ascend Learning, Inc. is a charter school management organization that starts and manages tuition-free, college-preparatory charter schools in Brooklyn, New York. Ascend schools equip students from underserved communities with the knowledge, confidence, and passion for learning to succeed in college and beyond. Ascend Schools open with the earliest elementary grades and grow by a grade each year; at maturity every school will serve students in K-12. Ascend Learning currently manages three charter schools in Brooklyn together serving approximately 885 students on its three campuses. A fourth Ascend school is slated to open in Brooklyn's Canarsie neighborhood and plans are underway for a fifth school in Williamsburg. The Ascend network of charter schools educates some of the most underserved children in the nation. At Brooklyn Ascend Middle School, 77% of our scholars are eligible for free lunch, the primary indicator of school poverty as determined by the U.S. Department of Education. Ascend Learning is a nonprofit organization and all donations are tax-deductible.


Why we need to fund public school libraries now

A new Ascend library is crucial to advance our scholars’ education. School libraries immerse children in the pleasures of self-directed reading and increase intellectual curiosity and motivation. Nancy Everhart, president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), notes, “Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that students in schools with strong school library programs learn more, get better grades, and score higher on standardized tests even when differences in socioeconomic factors are taken into consideration… School libraries are there for every child. They are the great equalizers of society.” School libraries bring to low-income students the resources readily available to their more affluent peers. They offer havens for exploration and research, quiet study, and valuable read-aloud time, especially critical in underserved neighborhoods; and school libraries give students who do not have computers in their homes the opportunity to master the latest digital research tools necessary to succeed in the global economy of the 21st century. Public school libraries are one of the most important means of expanding educational opportunities.

New York City families have seen school libraries and public libraries cut drastically from state and city budgets in recent years. In addition, the Robin Hood Foundation recently terminated its library initiative, a major source of school library support in New York City since 2002. A recent survey tracing the impact of cuts to school library budgets shows that that fourth-grade reading scores dropped in schools that had laid off their full-time librarians. A great school library is essential to closing the achievement gap between underserved and privileged children.

Ascend's ultimate goal is for our library design to serve as an affordable and scalable model. We are developing a master book list, budget, fundraising strategies, and architecture that can be replicated with minor adjustments to meet the needs of students across the country.

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Where we are now

Last spring we raised funds to launch the Ascend Library Project, and in September 2011, we established a temporary library for the first class of Ascend fifth-graders, located in a vacant classroom of Brooklyn Ascend Middle School's temporary facility.

We used our first round of library funding to:
  1. Compile and purchase a collection of nearly 4,000 books, based on a starter list of essential books developed in consultation with middle-school librarians throughout New York City
  2. Staff the library with a part-time library assistant who knows each fifth-grader and her or his reading preferences individually
  3. Purchase the Follett Destiny Digital Library Cataloguing System
  4. Arrange visits for visiting writers to the school to discuss their work, writing process, and favorite books
  5. Purchase two computers for guided online research in the library
  6. Purchase a number of art reproductions (such as Jacob Lawrence’s painting, “Library”) to hang in the library
  7. Develop the first phase of the architectural design for the permanent Ascend Middle School Library

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Ascend Visiting Writers Series

Our temporary library is now a vital and dynamic center of middle-school book culture. Scholars come to the library both during assigned library periods and more informally during their free time. The library is a welcoming place where scholars gather to discuss books or simply to read quietly. The library has extended and deepened each scholar’s core knowledge and individual passions. They have gathered in the library to listen to presentations by local published writters, whose work they read in their humanities classes. Ascend's middle-school scholars have become voracious readers, checking out two to five books per week. Their first research project focused on topics of their choice related to New York City. Each scholar worked one-on-one with our librarian on this project.

In addition to learning to love books, Ascend scholars have become more attentive and accurate readers. We have seen improvements throughout the year in their reading comprehension scores, their ability to use evidence from texts to construct arguments in writing and class discussion, and their overall writing skills. They have used the library’s computers to develop online research strategies and to discover new books and subjects for research. We have created a library that is in many respects the heart of learning and intellectual freedom at the school. We believe this first library experience will have a lasting effect on the scholars’ lives. Reading, especially self-directed reading, is power, and school libraries, like the one we are building at Ascend, are essential sites for this empowerment. At the end of the school year, our librarian gave each scholar a personal reading list and a library card for the Brooklyn Public Library. We are confident they will continue to use their library skills beyond the walls of our school.

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What will the money be used for?

Stage 1 Goal: $40,000

Total Funding Goal: $100,000



When we reach our Stage 1 Goal we will move into the new library. This money will
  • Complete the first phase of construction of the new library space. This includes shelving and several couches for reading but not the L-shaped banquettes
  • Purchase one of the three new computers we hope to add to the library
  • Purchase 300 of the 2,000 new books we aim to add to our collection next year
  • Tap the resources of the Brooklyn Public Library system

When we reach our total goal we will
  • Complete the construction of the new library space
  • Purchase library furnishings and create a small satellite library with reading banquette on the second floor of the middle school
  • Pay to upgrade the electronic library cataloguing system (Follett Destiny)
  • Expand the collection of books to reach our final goal
  • Establish a collection of music recordings, periodicals and eBooks
  • Engage full-time library staff
  • Expand the number of visiting authors to our school during the 2012-2013 academic year

When we surpass our goal for this year we will
  • Begin work on the next Ascend Charter School Network library at Brownsville Ascend

As designed, the permanent library will create a reading space that is comfortable, inviting, and intellectually stimulating—an environment that links reading with discovery and pleasure. Scholars will find ample places to curl-up alone with a book, gather in small groups or with a librarian or teacher, and meet in an open space with an entire class to listen to a story or a presentation. Our architects at Andersen-Miller Design have created three flexible zones:

  • 1. Ample table space for reading or homework
  • 2. Reading nooks with banquettes or benches
  • 3. Floor sitting space for reading aloud
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      We also have set aside more spaces for computers for guided online research. The L-shaped banquette will offer oases for private, quiet reading time during the scholars' busy school days. Affordable, durable, and flexible, this inviting and inspiring space will be at once a site of intellectual stimulation and a refuge for personal discovery and reading pleasure.

      Reaching our fundraising goal will help us staff the library. We need a library that is equipped to handle growth in every sense—in the number of students, in the number of books that respond to their broadening interests, and in constantly evolving digital technology. We also plan to open up the new library to the greater Ascend community and invite parents to attend visiting writers' presentations.

      The Ascend Library Project: A Scalable Model

      Our ultimate goal is for the Ascend Library Project design to serve as a model for libraries throughout the Ascend network and for other public schools of similar size and profile. By developing a practical and replicable model for other public schools locally and nationally, we will

      • Create uniquely designed, affordable, and durable state-of-the-art libraries that include age-appropriate, up-to-date book collections and technology and that employ and support library specialists
      • Strengthen modern library media centers so that they support each school's curriculum, serve as the educational heart of the school and connect school libraries to their local public library systems
      • Design a practical and replicable model for other public schools locally and nationally

      • ***AND ABOVE ALL***

      • NURTURE curious and passionate readers who might otherwise lack access to books and on-line research materials and to trained library specialists.


      With your help, we can realize our vision and serve thousands of young people, setting them firmly on a path to college and successful adulthood. Please join us in building a permanent, scalable library worthy of our children’s extraordinary potential and passion for learning.