Renovated library opens at Key School

Tony B. Watlington Sr., Ed.D., Superintendent, School District of Philadelphia, reads to Francis Scott Key School students after a renovated library was unveiled on May 8. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Each colorful book on the sprawling, neatly-stacked shelves represents an opportunity.

The Francis Scott Key School at 8th and Wolf streets cut the ribbon on a renovated library on the second floor of its school on May 8 to the delight of hundreds of students who will have the opportunity to get lost in a story.

The celebration came after years of fundraising through private donations and grants.

“I knew it would take a lot of fundraising and a lot of collective effort and sometimes you can get lost in that effort,” said Francis Scott Key School Principal Pauline Cheung. “But I’m so glad to stand here today and see that our vision has become a reality. We’re sitting in it right now. The dream has been realized.”

The Francis Scott Key School is now one of only a few schools in the city that has a fully operating school library.

Francis Scott Key School Principal Pauline Cheung emcees festivities at the ribbon cutting for a renovated library on the school’s second floor. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“I had a vision of this library being the central hub of this community,” Cheung said. “Our closest Philadelphia libraries are still about an eight- to 12-block walk away. I wanted a library that supports all students and families and staff members and was reflective of our diverse school community. We have over 25 languages spoken in this school and we have the largest English language learner population. Every one of these students brings something to the table. They bring family history, oral histories, and we want to build on that, especially in this library.”

The library was supported by the Neubauer Family Foundation, the seniors at the William Penn House, the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia and the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation of Philadelphia.

An attentive student from Francis Scott Key peeks over his chair at speakers during the ribbon cutting ceremony. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“This is yet another example of what we can accomplish when we work together and do great things for our young people,” said Tony B. Watlington Sr., Ed.D., Superintendent, School District of Philadelphia. “This library and this community hub helps to fulfill the school board’s goals and guardrails related to a safe, welcoming and supportive learning environment.”

Watlington said libraries played a crucial role in his own childhood development. 

“I remember when I was your age, I would like to go to the library and read a lot of non fiction,” Watlington told a room of elementary students. “I was particularly interested in things related to history because I was naturally curious. Libraries really helped me to explore my curiosity.”

Francis Scott Key School students applaud speakers at a ribbon cutting ceremony. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

After the official ceremony, Watlington read the book Dream Street to children in the comfy new library space. The reading space was one of several new added features, which include diverse books that reflect the student population and a smart board. And the library is just one of several new upgrades coming to the Key School. The Lower Moyamensing school will also receive an outdoor play space including an artificial mini turf soccer field and an outdoor classroom, thanks to state funding secured by Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, in the fall.

State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler gives remarks at the library ribbon cutting ceremony at the Francis Scott Key School. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“I’m excited to come back to the outdoor space and maybe we can play some soccer,” Fiedler said to a cheering group of students. “But today, I hope that you enjoy the books here. We’re all really excited to see this space and see you learn and grow and become such amazing leaders here in our community.”

Thoai Nguyen, CEO of Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association Coalition, better known as SEAMAAC, is a Francis Scott Key alum and a father of a current fifth-grader at the school. He praised the value of a good library in a diverse neighborhood.

“I’m a proud alumni of Key School and a product of public school entirely,” Nguyen said. “I’m a product of public investment in public education. When I was in school here, this library was my sanctuary. I grew up and (still) live in this neighborhood. I can’t tell you what that means to a young refugee boy just coming to the United States. To be able to learn, to grow and to see potential. This is a place of possibility.”