Who, What, Why: Literacy advocate Meresa García

The Penn Graduate School of Education student, who earned her bachelor’s from the College of Arts and Sciences in the Spring, talks about her work with the Penn Libraries Community Engagement team and her aspirations of becoming a teacher.

Meresa García.
    • Who

      For the past few years, Meresa García has served as a work study student alongside the Penn Libraries Community Engagement (PLCE) team, which, since the program’s founding in 2014, has sought to promote library and literacy access for public school students and their families, working closely with the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children. Specifically, for García, she would travel regularly to the nearby Henry C. Lea Elementary School to read to children, while also working library shifts—cataloging and shelving books, for instance.

      “Growing up, I always loved reading,” says García, originally from Los Angeles. “I would be the one at the library, I’d be doing the summer reading programs. So, when I learned the School District of Philadelphia only had a handful of librarians for all its schools, and having this privilege of studying at Penn, I knew I wanted to try to do all that I can to get involved.”

    • What

      García has also dove into bigger projects with PLCE, including working on a 100-plus page informational packet on best ways to use Destiny, the library system for the School District, as well as designing a “Read Aloud Guide,” promoting a diversified collection of books to share with young learners. García, fluent in Spanish and Italian (she studied both languages as an undergraduate student at Penn), has also led English as a Second Language programs online, which catered more toward the adult population in Philadelphia.

      “Those sessions were really fun,” García notes. “We would share short stories with their audio components and pair that with activities and games, as well as some informal chit chats. At PLCE we really stress that stories are for everybody—adults and children alike—so it was a great way to engage with everybody in the community.”

      García says one of the best parts of working at the library at Lea Elementary is “seeing kids go up and down the aisles at their school library and looking at books, just reading books. I don’t know, that’s just always been something that delights me because everyone should have access to books. Everyone should be able to just pick a book off a shelf and read.”

    • Why

      Having graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences this past spring, García has recently begun her master’s degree at the Penn Graduate School of Education, where she is enrolled in the Urban Teaching Apprenticeship Program. This fall, García, who says she’s wanted to be a teacher since she was 7 years old, is placed at Vare-Washington Elementary School in South Philadelphia.

      “There are so many students who need support, and if I can help, even though I’m just one person, then I will,” García says.

      Admitting that sometimes in the educator world “it’s easy to feel alone or overwhelmed,” García has been able to look closely toward the leadership of Penn Libraries’ Ancil George, Gina Pambianchi, and Rosie Jacobson.

      “Seeing what they’ve done and how far they’ve come, it always keeps me grounded, and shows that it always pays off,” García says. “I’ve always seen them as motivators to keep going.”