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Gail Borden exhibit aims to put bite on illiteracy

Dr. Paul Sereno SuperCroc who's skeletUniversity Chicago paleontologist found African desert. An exhibit featuring replicas 110 million-year-old find  is

Dr. Paul Sereno and SuperCroc, who's skeleton the University of Chicago paleontologist found in the African desert. An exhibit featuring replicas of the 110 million-year-old find is coming to the Gail Borden Library in Elgin this summer. | Photo courtesy of Gail Borden Library.

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Updated: April 9, 2013 11:31AM

ELGIN — SuperCroc is set to take a bite out of illiteracy in Elgin this spring.

The SuperCroc exhibit will begin May 4 at Gail Borden Public Library and continue into the summer.

SuperCroc is the 110 million-year-old African crocodile skeleton that University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno found in the African desert in 1997 and 2000.

The exhibit will include a replica of the crocodile’s skeleton and a 40-foot-long flesh model of the croc. The real thing was so large, its discover says, that the crocodile ate other dinosaurs.

Exhibit organizers are encouraging the community, area businesses and nonprofits to help the library, arts organizations and Elgin School District U46 promote the exhibit and bring visitors here, too.

Many of those partners were at the library Thursday to hear how the organizations plan to work together.

SuperCroc is coming to the library via Project Exploration — the same organization that brought “Giants: African Dinosaurs” to Gail Borden in 2005. The project is funded by $25,000 from the library foundation, a $25,000 grant from the Grand Victoria Foundation, and a $25,000 challenge grant provided by the foundation.

The challenge grant hit its goal on Wednesday, said Denise Raleigh, marketing and communications director at the library. Because of that, the Grand Victoria Foundation has promised another $25,000 — making up the $100,000 needed to bring SuperCroc here.

Reading push

Library staff hopes that the exhibit not only brings visitors to the library but also encourages more area schoolchildren to sign up for its summer reading program.

This year’s program, “Read on the Wild Side,” will be supported again by Elgin Parks and Recreation, Community Carnival, and a public arts project titled “What the Croc,” Raleigh said.

Those participant efforts are all designed to get kids reading.

“Children reading through the summer will excel in the fall at school. We think this combination of a great theme, with this visually inspiring exhibit … is going to be quite tremendous and quite impactful,” said library Director Carole Medal.

Last year, 8,000 area school children signed up for summer reading, Raleigh said. But beyond that, a record-breaking 3,700 students finished the program. They hope to increase that number again this year.

Partners helped boost last summer’s numbers, she said. The Community Carnival, organized by Anthony Pedote and with the help of Windy City Carnivals, offered ride wristbands to students who finished summer reading. The parks and rec department offered pool passes to students, too.

This year, more volunteers will be needed at the library to act as docents — tour guides to help explain and interpret the SuperCroc exhibits, said Karen Fox. She and her husband, Dan, will be coordinating and training those volunteers.

“What the Croc,” the summer art project, also needs businesses sponsoring the crocodile benches that artists will then use as mediums — either to paint, embellish or otherwise make into an art piece.

It is her hope, said organizer Sigi Psimenos, for 100 crocodiles to find sponsors and artists. The crocs then will be placed along the Fox River — a location they hope will bring in visitors and gain Elgin national attention.

That is where the Elgin Chamber of Commerce comes in, said president Carol Gieske. She will coordinate local businesses getting involved — be it restaurants catering to visitors or those who want to promote the exhibit and public art.

Nonprofit organizations that cater to children are also asked to get involved by becoming a satellite program for summer reading, said Ana Devine, director of outreach services at the library.

Through Gail Borden’s Gold Star program, they will teach those organizations — from parks and recreation to daycare centers — how to enroll children in summer reading and how to measure and record the number of minutes children spend with a book.

By keeping students — particularly those from disadvantaged homes — reading over the summer, they will be more successful the following school year, said U46 Superintendent Jose Torres.

“Every summer, some kids fall behind, and some kids move ahead. If we do not focus on reading in the summer, those kids will fall behind. Gail Borden pushes the edge” to keep children reading, he said.

“Every year, we have been able to do some amazing work as partners,” he said.

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