Group helps Sarasota students by paying their library fines

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- A local community has united to restore the right of neighborhood kids to borrow school library books by paying their overdue fines. The effort, facilitated by Sarasota Community Studio, hopes to make their neighborhood the best at reading -- but is it sending the wrong message to kids about personal responsibility?

Sarasota Community Studio paid the fines off in full last week, but they say it's all part of a bigger effort in the Central Cocoanut community. The more than $200 in library fines had been preventing nearly a quarter of the Gocio Elementary students living in Central Cocoanut from borrowing books.

"When kids are not able to take out books from their school library, that can create in them a decrease in their own enthusiasm," says Allison Pinto, director of Sarasota Community Studio.

The organization first became aware of the book-borrowing dilemma in November through a student, and they immediately contacted Gocio Elementary’s librarian to find out how much the students owed.

"Kids starting saying, ‘you know what, I want to chip in,’” Pinto says.

In response, adult neighbors presented the kids with opportunities to raise the funds by planting flowers and raking yards.

"Kids can actually be the significant agents of change in the lives of their neighborhood community," Pinto says.

Gocio Elementary parent Robert Wilcox says he is grateful for the group's effort to help his daughter, who is currently in the 2nd grade and suffers from a slight learning disability.

"Her reading is not at the level it should be and everyday she's trying, she's bringing home books," he says.

Sarasota Community Studio is a hub where neighborhood kids can come together to play, learn and grow. And the neighbors use data to gauge how they can help the children thrive. In 2012, they found that only about 30 percent of their community's 3rd grade students scored above a three on the FCAT. Their mission is to change that.

"When I saw the data of 31 percent of this neighborhood children could barely read we called a reading meeting, then we had neighbors put up books in their yard and help children read," says Sarasota Community Studio’s Jessie McGee.

Sarasota Community Studio is already making plans for the next school year, part of which include making sure that no student is kept from borrowing library books.