GSE Students Showcase 'Learning Through Libraries' Project

Volunteers seek project's longevity in El Salvador

Greg B Johnston

A group of GSE students addresses the crowd at “Cambridge to Caluco.” The event, held yesterday night at Gutman library, showcased the group’s efforts to fundraise and buy books for schools in El Salvador.

Last night at Gutman Library, a group of students from the Harvard Graduate School of Education presented the preliminary results of their efforts to expand literary education internationally, and appealed to the administration and public to keep the project alive.

Learning Through Libraries is the brainchild of Jill A. Carlson, Eleanor B. O’Donnell, and Debra L. Gittler. Back in August, the three GSE students in international education policy envisioned a project that would help them gain teaching experience abroad—which is not provided in the GSE curriculum.

During their trip to El Salvador, the trio helped to establish three new libraries at primary schools in the poor municipality of Caluco, as well as two mural exhibits and one photography workshop to educate children through storytelling and the arts.

Yesterday, seven months after the conception of the project, the fruits of Learning Through Libraries were celebrated at an exhibition of the Caluco children’s photography.

“Books alone don’t make a difference,” Gittler said at the reception last night, “but relationships do.”


Gittler and her colleagues, who will graduate in the spring, said they hope that GSE Arts in Education Program Coordinator Scott K. Ruescher—the only staff member on the trip to El Salvador—will be able to pass their project on to a new class of GSE students.

Last night’s gathering was also attended by the joint student council of Cambridge’s Amigos School and Martin Luther King, Jr. School, which coordinated efforts to collect over 700 books for the library effort.

The collaboration at the graduate level was mirrored at the junior high school level, allowing the younger students to “connect with their peers and embrace others’ cultures through education,” said Michael C. Batt, a social studies teacher at Amigos and one of the student council coordinators.

“There are many ways to tell a story,” said Briget C. Ganske, who studies arts in education at GSE and taught the photography workshop in El Salvador. “I really believe in the power of photography to communicate emotions, and it was so wonderful to share that experience and see the kids get excited about it.”

O’Donnell said that Learning Through Libraries plans to open two more libraries by the end of the semester.

To ensure that the project endures beyond their graduation, the outgoing GSE students are working with the administration to turn the El Salvador project into a January term course for credit, according to Lisa J. Mulvey, a student at GSE who helped coordinate the administrative aspects of the project.

“We really hope to continue the project and make it sustainable and long lasting,” O’Donnell said. “This isn’t the end.”

—Staff writer Xi Yu can be reached at