COSTA MESA — Kimberly Henry, the library clerk at Rea Elementary School, has had to make do for the last three years without a budget for updating her bookshelves.
That shouldn't be a problem anymore.
On Wednesday morning, the school in Costa Mesa received nearly $12,000 in books and monetary donations to replenish its library.
The Fashion Island Barnes & Noble branch gave the school 780 books the store has collected through new book donations from customers, along with a matching cash donation of $5,666 from City National Bank — nearly double the amount school officials had anticipated.
"Oh, my God, I almost cried," Henry said after receiving the larger-than-expected check. "I can do so much with that."
Students, school officials and other Newport-Mesa Unified School District representatives gathered on the blacktop for a special presentation of the donations.
The students sat cross-legged as the wind blew their hair about, and they clapped and cheered when the announcement was made.
"I'm very excited because they gave too much money for books," said Juan Perez, 11.
The fifth-grader said he reads 30 minutes every day, getting all of his books from the school library.
Juan isn't the only student who frequents the library. Most of the students don't use public libraries, relying instead on Rea's offerings, she said.
The school was one of 27 in California, Nevada and New York to receive books and money for their campus libraries through the City National Bank's "Reading is the Way Up" literacy program.
Another Costa Mesa school, Wilson Elementary, was also a recipient. Wilson Elementary received more than 500 books from Barnes & Noble.
On March 11, Wilson will receive a matching cash donation from City National Bank, said N-MUSD district spokeswoman Laura Boss.
The Los Angeles-based bank, which recently opened a branch in Costa Mesa, partnered with Barnes & Noble to match the book donations collected by the book chain during its annual Holiday Book Drive, with the cash equivalent, said Charles Mariano, vice president and manager of City National Bank's Costa Mesa branch.
In October, during the release of the latest "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," Barnes & Noble's Fashion Island store got involved with Rea Elementary at the school's book fair, said Michelle Fernandez, the branch's community relations manager.
Through the partnership, Fernandez said she saw the school's need and decided to collect books for Rea this year.
The donations will help Henry get the library up-to-date after having no money to pay for it in about three years, she said.
The school requested that Barnes & Noble customers give books appropriate for kindergarteners through third-graders.
The school, which until three years ago only served fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students, was "sincerely lacking" in reading material for the younger students, she said.
The school's nonfiction books that students use for research were almost all out of date, Henry said.
Some of the donated money will be used to update those books, as well as buy class sets of certain fiction books.
Reading together as a class, versus individually, builds fluency, Henry said.
Teachers can engage students in discussions or answer questions about the material, she said.
Students also take turns reading out loud, allowing them to work on their pronunciation — an especially important learning tool at Rea, she added.
Rea's students are predominately Latino, with 87% English as a second-language learners, said Principal Anna Corral.
State standardized test reports show that, in reading, students at Rea have lagged behind their grade-level peers at other district schools.
For example, nearly half of second-grade students at Rea, or 45%, achieved a "basic" level in English language arts testing compared with about a quarter, or 24%, of second-graders who scored "basic" across the district, according to 2010 STAR test data from the state Department of Education.
In contrast, only 13% of second-graders at Rea tested "proficient" in language arts — the next level up from "basic" — but 33% of second-graders districtwide were proficient in the subject.
Reading is a high priority at Rea, and the book donations will only help the school achieve its academic goals, she said.
"It encourages them to read when they have books they like to read," she said.