story by Aric Mitchell
Lines for the children’s computer area at Van Buren Public Library just grew a little shorter thanks to a concerned parent and some area children intent on improving their learning experience.
Parent Jennifer McKinney, the team at Carter’s Audio/Video in Van Buren, and an army of eager young learners produced a 90-second video for the AWE Digital Learning Solutions competition, beating out 12 other groups across the nation to capture the grand prize — a new Early Learning Station (ELS) valued at $3,000.
McKinney discovered the win in June and said the grand prize had arrived “a few weeks ago.”
The new computer comes equipped with a host of programs designed to make learning fun for children in the age range from two to eight.
Instead of learning keyboarding skills from the hunt-and-peck approach, children can now square off against the Black Knight and his diabolical typing machine in the program “Typing Tournament.”
They can use combinations of “goo” to solve an increasingly difficult set of challenges related to physics and simple problem solving in the “World of Goo.”
They can incorporate math skills to find missing pieces of their boat and break free from Pirate Island in “Reader Rabbit Math.”
The ELS comes equipped with these and 49 other programs that help children develop at a pace that is comfortable for them, McKinney said. For the home school mom of two, the new computer is the culmination of close to a year of determination.
“I was in here last year, and they had only one, and there was a crying child upset for not getting to play on the computer. We have 22,000 people in Van Buren and only one children’s computer in the whole city. Now we’re up to two,” McKinney said.
In early 2012, McKinney began to organize a fundraising push to turn things around. Around Valentine’s Day, she launched a singing telegram campaign with the cooperation of Van Buren business owner Leah Livengood of Coffee and a Good Book.
“They were called ‘Library Lovegrams,’” Livengood said. “We put out some advertisements and did a social media push on our Facebook. Word of mouth traveled. People would set up a singing telegram and then she or I would go out to sing and deliver chocolate covered strawberries. I had a list of songs for them to choose from—classic love standards—and if they had requests we would try to do those, too.”
“Really, this is Jennifer’s thing. She got the ball rolling. She’s a little go-getter,” Livengood added.
Prior to the Library Lovegrams, McKinney also spearheaded a January Skate Night at Wheels in Motion in Van Buren.
“They (Wheels in Motion) were so great to work with. All proceeds after the costs of running the building for the night went to this effort,” McKinney said.
Between the two events, McKinney was able to raise $1,500 and attract additional support from “Fort Smith- and Van Buren-area businesses, such as Furniture Factory Outlet, Yarnology and More, A Little Bit of Mexico, Goody’s, and TGIFriday’s,” she said.
The winning video took “about three hours” to shoot, McKinney added. “Carter’s (Audio/Video) really came out and did a wonderful thing. The owner (Jeff Carter) put the whole video together with the audio and submitted it on YouTube. They were the first people we asked. We really have some wonderful businesses in this town,” McKinney said.
Van Buren Friends of the Library agreed to finish out the funding on a third computer (a net-book for ages 8-14), which "should arrive soon." Until then, the child visitors of the Van Buren Public Library appear more than happy with their newfound prize.
“They like the new one,” said library director Danalene Porter. “Just the other day, there was a little girl in here, and she said, ‘Oh Mama, they’ve got two computers now.’ They’re all really excited about it.”
Viewers can link here to watch the prize-winning video at YouTube.