Sand Castle Library Gets Bigger Location
Eight Years Helping Islanders Improve Reading and English Skills

May 22nd, 2014

After eight years working to strengthen reading skills on Roatan, the Sand Castle Library  moved into a bigger, better building on the beach in April.

Austen Scott (left) and Leon Brice, both 13, study English grammar on the Rosetta Stone program after school at the Sand Castle Library in Sandy Bay.

Austen Scott (left) and Leon Brice, both 13, study English grammar on the Rosetta Stone program after school at the Sand Castle Library in Sandy Bay.

The new location, which once housed a dive shop, represents a “huge difference” in space and allows activities previously scattered among different buidlings to be under one roof, said Camilla (Cam) O’Brien, who runs the center. “I wanted everyone together so I could watch everybody,” she said.

O’Brien and her husband Ted operated the Bay Islands Beach Resort on the site for 17 years until it closed in 2010. She said she started the learning center for her own staff, who could not submit written orders to the cook in either English or Spanish. “I realized they just didn’t have those skills,” she said. So in 2006 she put a few computers in the resort’s giftshop and started offering reading classes. Soon the employees’ children started showing up, then other children from the surrounding community. “All these kids started arriving,” O’Brien recalled. Then, she said, “All vandalism stopped.”

The O’Briens found an ally in Marlon Breve, education minister under former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. They made grand plans for a vocational school. Then Breve left office abruptly when President Zelaya was removed by the military in 2009 and “everything went out the window,” she said. “So we licked our wounds and started over again.”

A grant from Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines through the Panamerican Development Foundation pays for a local teacher, John Dilbert, to come in the afternoons to help children with their homework and reading. Adults drop by as well. While we were at the center Dilbert was coaching Carla Lucas and her sister Jasmin, 27, through an elementary English reader while Lucas’s sons, Michael (9) and Thomas (10), read Spanish books.

“We’re starting to get a real nice collection of Spanish books,” said O’Brien. But most of the library’s approximately 14,000 volumes were donated from groups in the US and are in English.

A grant last year from USAID, administered by the O’Briens’ PIER foundation (Partners in Education on Roatan), was used for teacher training and promoting community involvement. A group of private donors funded a Book Mobile, which started last year and now visits 14 schools on the island on a two-week rotation. Last year the Book Mobile lent nearly 6,000 books to more than 1,000 children, said O’Brien. Teachers travel with the Book Mobile and read stories to the children with activities and lesson plans built around them. The center is also working on a set of illustrated, “culturally relevant” story books in English, Spanish and Garifuna.

Mostly, though, the library serves as a place where children can go after school to read, do their homework, play educational games and get help with their reading and English skills. Austen Scott, who lives nearby, comes about four times a week for about four hours at a time and has read more than 60 books so far this term. He especially likes animal books, he said. Each child has a name tag that is placed under a Rusty Fish ornament around the wall depending on how many books they have read. “Me and Leon (Brice, another regular) are on the blue fish (the most advanced level),” said Austen.  “Justin is on the turtle, and David is on the frog.”

O’Brien said about 20-25 children come in on a typical afternoon.

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