‘Like a home away from home’: Innovative book program sees positive reception at McCollum High School

Cowboys Read! bookshelves across campus connect students to each other, their teachers

SAN ANTONIO - – Walking around McCollum High School, you’ll see five different bookshelves with the sign Cowboys Read!

But library books are not filling those shelves. These new, current and exciting books are free to take, share and keep.

“There’s no due date, there’s no fines, there’s nothing,” McCollum High School librarian Terrie Sharp said. “You return it when you’re done, or you pass it off to your friend, or you keep it for yourself.”

Sharp graduated from McCollum and returned to work as an English teacher and then librarian, tallying up to 30 years with the school.

She knows how much the pandemic affected the students’ finances and literacy. Many students are learning English as a second language and depend on school for their language development.

That’s why she created the Cowboys Read! program, a play on the school’s mascot, to develop a culture of reading.

It’s working by improving literacy and connecting the school community, regardless of age.

KSAT visited the bookshelves and talked to McCollum seniors Maria Casias and Nadine Valdez, who are taking full advantage of the innovative program.

Casias frequents the bookshelves every day.

“Every day. I go every day,” Casias said. “I love the library. It’s like a home away from home.”

Valdez, too, echoed the feeling of home the bookshelves bring.

“It really is. We’re always here in the mornings and then during lunch and sometimes during our periods if we’re free,” Valdez said.

They said the books are not just stories. They are portals.

“I just, I like escaping,” Casias said. “Just going into a whole other world where stress and worries are like, it’s not the number one problem.”

There are five bookshelves across the campus, even in the cafeteria. Many books that are taken don’t reappear, and that is a good thing.

Casias and Valdez said they have created their own bookshelves at home, which wouldn’t be possible without the program.

“No. Books are really expensive nowadays, so luckily, this has really been a lifesaver,” Casias said.

“I have like nine cubbies filled with books!” Valdez said.

These are not just older donated books. They are current, new, relevant books with big print, which is easy on the eyes and fast to flip through.

“It had to be exciting. It had to be very eye-catching,” Sharp said. “And it would be something that they would talk about with their friends and encourage each other to read.”

Some of the books are on tough topics.

“They are tough topics,” Sharp said. “But kids want to see themselves depicted in what they’re reading because they can make that connection easier.”

The students couldn’t agree more and are grateful for Sharp’s selection.

“Especially if we read the same book, get other perspectives, be able to relate to other kids,” Casias said. “And that’s how friendships start.”

The program has allowed those connections to happen, not just between students but to their teachers as well.

Across from the bookshelf near the library is a window with dozens of pieces of paper. Each has a picture of a book cover and a label saying which teacher is currently reading that book personally.

“This is something new that we’ve started to show kids that you continue to read throughout your whole life,” Sharp said, explaining how proud she is to see teachers and students connecting over books.

Casias and Valdez hope the bookshelves stay long after they leave McCollum.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.