By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Leslie Travis, the librarian at Ray Elementary School, announced her retirement after 35 years as an educator. She said her teaching career was atypical, which was very exciting for her.
Travis has been the librarian at Ray, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., for 21 years. She began her career as a classroom teacher and taught pre-kindergarten through 8th grade at several schools, including the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, 1362 E. 59th St., before teaching in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system.
Travis, who obtained her bachelors degree in education from the University of Chicago, said she would have preferred to be a math teacher but wanted even more to teach in Hyde Park. She took a position at Ray, which at the time only had a librarian position open, and went back to school at Roosevelt University where she obtained a masters degree in library science.
“Being a librarian in CPS is fantastic,” Travis said. “I never had to do the same thing two years in a row and I am constantly learning new things.”
Travis said during her time at Ray she has tried to integrate literature into the student’s daily activities at school and at home.
About eight years ago, she started the traveling library program at her own expense to purchase books for each student from K through 8. At the beginning of the school year, she gave each student a bag of books to read so they could read a book a day out loud with their parents.
“Students needed more books to read than school the library programs could accommodate,” Travis said. “I wanted them to have exposure to many different kinds of books. I am adamantly convinced that it improves their reading scores.”
She also led annual school-wide, in-depth studies of literature so every children could discuss the books they were reading with each other, which included “The Wizard of OZ,” “Don Quixote” and several titles by William Shakespeare.
In addition to her duties as the librarian, Travis also led, assisted and advised several after-school clubs at Ray. She’s sewn costumes for the drama club and started a sewing club that allowed her to lead a school-wide quilting project after terrorist attacks in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. The school made 12 “peace quilts,” some of which are hanging in firehouses in New York.
The work of students in Travis’ sewing group was also featured in “American Girl Magazine,” on “Sewing with Nancy,” which is a national TV program, and are on display in the National Sewing Museum.
“I tried to do meaningful projects with students when possible,” said Travis, who was awarded two pedal-powered bicycles through a grant she sought out and co-wrote with two teachers from Climate Cycle.
Over the past few months she’s worked with the school’s robotics and athletics teams to build the bicycles and make sure they run properly. The electric energy created from the bikes has been used to power the scoreboard in the gym during games and sewing machines for the sewing club.
Travis said she sought out the grant because she was “searching for a way to help Ray students be more active in the battle to stop climate change.”
Travis said her retirement plans include volunteering as a baby cuddler in the neonatal unit of a hospital, taking some dressmaking or fashion design classes and yacht racing.