CRESTVIEW — Since November, Northwood Arts and Sciences Academy students have been discovering a new world contained within the pages of books.
"They're really excited," media specialist Kristal Petruzzi said. "We haven't had a library in several years."
Prior to Petruzzi's appointment, Northwood's library had been shuttered due to budget reductions that cost the school its former librarian. Volunteer staffers helped it open occasionally.
That was before Dr. Donna Goode, the school's new principal, took the helm for the 2013-14 school year.
"Our principal said reading is a priority at Northwood," Petruzzi said.
Goode asked school superintendent Mary Beth Jackson for funds to allow the library to open full time.
"I am so thankful that our superintendent made opening our library a priority," Goode said.
Now, grasping large purple library cards, students such as second-grader Brandyn Hickingbottom and his classmates eagerly browse the stacks, choose books and check them out.
Having the kids scan their library cards and book barcodes helps them connect with the library, Petruzzi said.
"It gives them ownership," she said. "This is their library."
Petruzzi said she keeps lists of books that students request, and has started a donation box to collect money to buy them. She has also started programs to make the library's services more diverse.
A morning art club, for example, meets at 8 a.m. Then, students look through drawing books waiting on the art table.
Last week, Dozer, a certified therapy dog, made his first monthly appearance at the library. Students who complete a reading log or become library regulars may read to Dozer "and hug on him," Petruzzi said.
Additionally, a library club has sprung up as students ask to help maintain the facility, Petruzzi said.
"I have kids coming in during their lunch time and saying, 'I want to be a junior librarian,'" she said. Those students help her shelve books and assist their peers in checking books in or out.
Bringing in community speakers to talk to students about books and reading is also on Petruzzi's agenda and, ultimately, she and Goode would like to see Northwood's library become a neighborhood resource.
"What we would like to do is open up the library in the (evenings), maybe from 6 to 7," Goode said. "We would be open to adults in the community wanting to build partnerships with our readers."
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.