Set inside a mansion in Northeast Ohio, one library is drawing a lot of attention. Chandeliers drip with cobwebs and spiders. Creaking noises seem to radiate from the walls. Mysterious bottled potions line the bookshelves.
It might sound like a place that would send children running, but Julie Billiart Schools’ annual Spooky Library manages to have the opposite effect.
“Every year, our students come together to create a week-long Spooky Library,” said Shari Sasso, Julie Billiart Schools’ librarian. “The kids absolutely love it. They make excuses to come in. They return books they’ve never returned before.”
Sasso begins planning the Spooky Library in August. This is her eleventh and final year putting on the beloved event, as she’ll retire at the end of the school year. When planning this year’s event, she knew that the theme and execution needed to be absolutely “epic.”
This year, 35 Julie Billiart Schools students participated in the planning and decorating of the library. The students, who range from fifth to eighth grade, volunteered in September and sacrificed recesses and lunch periods to make the library a possibility. Working in groups, or “terror-tories”, the students created a vision for their section of the library and designed decorations and activities that the entire school could enjoy.
This year, students collaborated to bring the Harry Potter Spooky Library theme to life. One group created Diagon Alley, while another turned a reading nook into a potions cellar.
“The kids really do most of the work,” said Sasso. “Teachers and parents help guide the groups, but we really try to keep the integrity of the kids’ ideas and effort.”
Julie Billiart Schools’ Lyndhurst location serves more than 120 students, grades K-8, who experience learning differences like Autism, ADD/ADHD, and Dyslexia. Through the 11 years that Sasso has put on the Spooky Library, it has served as a fun and engaging activity for kids to learn how to work together, create plans, and follow-through on ideas outside of the classroom.
In addition to the 35 students who made up the Spooky Library committee, participation streamed in from many sources throughout the school. Diane Hughes, Julie Billiart Schools’ Art Therapist, helped every student create an art project for the Library. A group of students and their parents volunteered to bake treats for the Library, and some students participated in a Lego challenge as part of the Spooky Library decorations.
The library transforms into Spooky Library for only one week. During that time, every class visits the library for a special dessert. Students partake in guessing games, quiet reading, and are encouraged to write postcards to their friends or teachers that an “owl” will carry. Every student receives a hand-made Hogwarts-themed acceptance letter and a wand.
The best part of the Spooky Library, according to many Julie Billiart teachers, is that the students come together to create something.
“We get to see their strengths shine through,” said Sasso. “It’s really about encouraging, challenging, and trusting them to build something great. Their relationships with each other grow because they’re working together in a fun environment. In Spooky Library, it doesn’t matter your grade level or reading level, or if you’re good at math. You’re welcome here.”