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Summer Reading

West Springfield grad interns at Richard Byrd Library.

<bt>As a sophomore at Randolph-Macon Women's College, Rachel Byington is double-majoring in math and economics. It would make sense for her to get a head start in the job market and secure an internship in one of her majors.

But this summer, Byington is interning at the Richard Byrd Library as its outreach program coordinator to increase literacy for at-risk children in the Springfield community.

"I grew up in the community, and I wanted to give something back and help kids to do well in school and appreciate books," Byington said. "I also wanted to utilize the theater skills from high school, and doing programs for the kids has given me that opportunity."

Byington works with area children by traveling to camps, schools, day-care centers, Head Start programs and Rec. Pacs to promote literacy and pleasure reading.

"It's opened my eyes as to the needs of the community," Byington said. "The chance for all kids to appreciate books and read. Not all kids get that opportunity. A lot of kids get left behind, especially in this community, where parents have to work all the time."

BYINGTON WORKS with Richard Byrd's children's librarian Jennifer Koening on programs to reach out to encourage children to read.

"Rachel has been a pleasure to work with. She came and stepped into her role as community assistant," Koening said. "It has been the quickest seven weeks of my life, a very wonderful experience."

Byington, a 2003 graduate of West Springfield High School, got the internship through a grant from the ExxonMobil Corp. that Richard Byrd received.

"ExxonMobil sponsors about 60 internships at nonprofit organizations and provides a $2,000 stipend," Byington said. "The Fairfax County Public Library [FCPL] Foundation applied for a grant from ExxonMobil, and then Richard Byrd applied to get the intern. I applied for the internship through the FCPL Foundation and was placed here."

Byington's internship at Richard Byrd is eight weeks long. Richard Byrd branch manager Margaret Cope said that Byington is that library's first intern.

"We originally wanted someone who was interested in libraries and working with children, but that didn't show up in our search," Cope said. "But then we found Rachel. And even though she's majoring in math and economics, part of her success here comes from her acting."

Cope said that the number of sign-ups for the Summer Reading Program for children and young adults at the Richard Byrd branch has increased.

"We have over 900 children signed up, and part of it is Miss Rachel. She goes out to the schools and reads to the children, and they see her and go, 'Miss Rachel!'," Cope said. "She has an enthusiasm for reading and a presence of the library in her for children who can't come themselves."

Byington said one of her most memorable programs was when she read to every single classroom at Lynbrook Elementary School.

"I really enjoyed reading 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' as a kid. I read a selection of 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' to one class at Lynbrook," Byington said. "A few days later, one of the librarians said that a girl came in asking for 'The Lion, The Fawn and The Ward' because I read it to the class."

PEGGY MOONEY, a former children's librarian, has been mentoring Byington once a week for about an hour.

"I was very impressed the first time I met her. She's very grounded," Mooney said. "She knows a lot about literature and has a very nice dramatic flair. She doesn't just go, 'Da da da da ... ' but gives it just enough emotion."

Mooney said that she thinks Byington has always been a library user, so there hasn't been much to teach her.

"She's certainly an asset to the library. Rachel's a terrific person," Mooney said. "She's touched a lot of children's minds."