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Erin Waldron-Smith’s temporary library is a little, well, little this year. The Bettendorf Schools librarian’s room at the Mark Twain North campus — in the same building as Ross College — is just big enough for her desk, her book cart, the shelves lining the walls and maybe a couple of people. It’s certainly not big enough for a whole class to pile in. 

On Friday, the first day of school for the district, though, she already knew how she’d make the best of the book cart, which she’ll wheel directly into classrooms for library time: It’s going to be her donkey. 

“I’m really fascinated by these women who went into the Appalachian Mountains during the Great Depression,” Waldron-Smith said, referring to the Pack Horse Library Project, which saw “book ladies” ride into rural Kentucky on pack animals laden with books. She plans to decorate her cart to look like a donkey and have her students help name it. “It’s a great history lesson. I’m excited to use that as a moment to learn about the importance of books and access to information.” 

In May, the staff and students of Thomas Jefferson and Mark Twain Elementaries merged. The students will move into the new Mark Twain building after construction is done, which is expected to be the start of the second semester in January.

In the meantime, the merged preschool, kindergarten and first-grade students are housed in Jefferson at the “South Campus.” The older students are all attending the renovated campus in Ross College.

Down the hall from the library, Emily Faust and Sarah Montgomery — both fourth-grade teachers — are welcoming students into their newly-decorated classrooms. Despite some initial anxiety about moving students to the Ross College location for a few months, both said the parent response since actually seeing the site has been mostly positive. 

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“A lot of parents were like, ‘oh, it actually looks like a school,’ ” Montgomery said. 

In the main hallway, kids are hanging their backpacks, many of which are sequined, decked out in plush animal keychains or, in the case of the younger kids, are nearly as big as the kids themselves. 

“I was worried at first, but after seeing how wholesome and comfortable it is, I feel better,” said Danielle Black, watching her daughter walk around the makeshift playground before class starts. Her second-grader was nervous, but was easing in quickly, she said. “I had to just remind her that this is the first time for everyone.” 

One teacher was overheard telling her class “It’s going to look a little bit different this year."

Different or not, Principal Caroline Olson said everything was “coming together.” 

“We ready to teach, and we’re ready to learn,” she said. 

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Quad-City Times education reporter.

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