Lessons from a sit-in

The kids who protested the closure of the Ashland Public Library in April 2007 will be teaching schoolchildren throughout the country about the importance of peaceful protests.

The Teachers' Curriculum Institute has commissioned New York City author Susan Buckley to write a feature story about the event that will appear in a nationally distributed social studies textbook for fourth-graders.

"We feel this story will help students across the nation relate to how they can get involved in their communities and make a difference," said TCI Marketing Manager Karen Johnson. "Civic action is so important to society and telling this story will help students better grasp what they are learning in class. We hope the children of Ashland, Ore. will inspire other students to think about what they can do for their communities."

The story will appear in the "Reading Further" section at the end of a chapter about cities of the West in the "Social Studies Alive! Regions of Our Country" textbook. Many "Reading Further" sections feature real people, including kids, who have done something that is connected to the chapter's content. This helps young readers process the information because they can relate it to their own lives, Johnson said.

The Ashland Public Library closed in April 2007 along with other libraries in the Jackson County system due to a loss of federal funding and county voters' unwillingness to pass a property tax levy to make up for the lost funding. A majority of Ashland voters had supported the county-wide levy.

More than 50 sign-waving children staged a sit-in on closing day in protest. Ashland Police Sgt. Malcus Williams was dispatched to the scene.

"You're teaching a lot today," he told them at the time. "Miracles happen because of people like you who stood up for what you know is right."

After Williams read them a story, the children peacefully left the library and were greeted by an applauding crowd outside the doors.

But long before that day, the kids began meeting in the conference room of the library to plan their protest. Parents were present, but they stood back and let the children organize, said Tracy Harding, parent of Frank Bungay.

"When they chose to do the sit-in, one of the most exciting things was the lengthy planning process," said Shelly Elkovich, mother to Aubyn Heglie and Rowan Heglie. "It was almost a social studies lesson in how to implement non-violent civil disobedience in a way that is honorable to that tradition in our country."

Aubyn Heglie, now 11, said she and other kids decided they had to do something when they heard the libraries would close.

"A lot of people think that kids can't do very much and sometimes you hear about things and get mad because you can't vote because you're a child," she said. "We decided we were going to protest it. We wanted to show other kids even if you are young and not old enough to vote, you can still make a difference."

Elkovich said that at first, the kids wanted to be carried out by the police. But in talking beforehand with police officers, they learned the police did not want to physically carry out children. The kids agreed that they would stage their sit-in, but then walk out on their own.

Elkovich said she was proud of the kids for showing respect for the police officers and also to the librarians, who probably wanted to go home to their families after a long and emotional day.

Williams said that he appreciated meeting with the kids' representatives in advance because that allowed him to do his job as a police officer, while the children were able to carry out their protest and make a statement without anybody getting hurt.

The sit-in reminded him of other historic occasions when people carried out peaceful protests, he said.

"Being of African American descent, I had to think of Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he absolutely would have wanted it to be peaceful," Williams said. "If he were alive today, he would have wanted it to be peaceful and planned out in the way that it was."

After receiving an extension of a limited amount of federal funding, Jackson County reopened all the libraries in October 2007, but with shortened operating hours. However, Ashland's library opened at 40 hours a week because voters in Ashland approved their own property tax levy to supplement library hours and services.

Many of the kids who protested the library's closure were back for opening day. Williams also returned, and again read the children a story &

but this time to celebrate.

Rowan Heglie was there for the reopening of Ashland's library.

"I felt as if a piece of the community had been fitted back in, like a jigsaw puzzle. It felt great to be back in the library," he said.

Rowan Heglie said that the closure of the libraries in Jackson County &

which was the largest closure in the nation &

was something that never should have happened. He said he is glad that other kids in America will hear about the library sit-in.

"It's good to get the message out. It's good for kids to know they are not powerless," he said.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit .

Share This Story