The new year brings Volusia County public libraries a new opportunity to show they are more than shelves of books.
Using federal funds from a stimulus bill passed by the Congress in early 2021, the county library system will take educational programs on the road to help children and families.
The first of the initiatives involves helping children boost their knowledge and understanding of applied science, sometimes referred to as STEM — an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The second program is known as “Recipes and Reads — Family Culinary Literacy Labs.”
As for the STEM program, county Library Services Director Lucinda Colee says her department must acquire a vehicle capable of holding and moving the teaching equipment.
“It’s going to be like a large-size van that will have the technology in it to take to smaller libraries,” Colee told The Beacon. She said the mobile lab will enhance the teaching the students receive in the classroom.
As well as appearing at some of the smaller libraries around the county, such as the ones in DeBary, Lake Helen, Orange City and Pierson, Colee said the mobile lab will go to schools and community centers to be available for youngsters interested in improving their STEM skills.
“It’s to give the kids more hands-on experience with some of the newer technology,” she noted.
The effort will be aimed at helping students in the upper elementary and middle-school grades, Colee said. Subjects and activities will include robotics, flying drones, and writing computer code.
A county summary of the planned mobile STEM-lab notes: “The program will prioritize low-income neighborhoods where the child poverty rate is greater than 30 percent. The mobile lab also will provide students in those areas with access to tablets and internet connectivity through an internet hotspot. The project’s intent is to address COVID-19’s effects on student learning, where existing divides and STEM education experienced disruption.”
The County Council approved the program and its funding Dec. 14.
The council also approved on that date a program intended to educate families regarding food and meal-planning, known as culinary literacy.
“This is something new. It will cover all types of culinary literacy,” Colee said. “The target audience is going to be youth and families.”
Culinary literacy covers a range of subjects, she said, including food and nutrition, recipes, food preparation, food handling, hygiene and food safety, along with “consumer-cost-saving techniques and meal stretching.”
Colee said the county’s six regional libraries — DeLand, Deltona, Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Ormond Beach and Port Orange — will acquire six “Charlie Carts.”
“They’re fully stocked mobile-kitchen carts for teaching culinary literacy for all youths and all ages. We’ll try to engage them as a family,” she said.
Though the Charlie Carts will be based at the regional libraries, Colee said they will be available to travel to other locations, such as the smaller libraries around the county.
The culinary-literacy program is a good fit for the libraries, Colee said, because many of the libraries provide food for youngsters during the summer.
“We’ve been participating in the food program for the last eight years. Eleven branches are feeding sites,” she said.
The STEM mobile-lab program has a total cost of $64,721. Of that, $31,670 comes from a grant under the American Rescue Plan Act, accomplished by a county match of $7,178 and a match of in-kind services worth $25,873.
The Recipes and Reads program costs $75,953, which is the amount of the ARPA grant.