Checking out books, asking for research help, and joining a book club are wonderful ways many students can enjoy their school’s library. But as the years have passed, the school library programs and opportunities offered by education institutions have grown in fascinating ways. Library staff in schools across North America are providing students with the chance to polish both hard and soft skills. From learning the intricacies of podcasting, to becoming social justice activists, students who walk into their school library are likely to walk out completely empowered. Read on to learn about five unique school library programs that are changing lives.
Adams Middle School: Daily Morning Show
At Adams Middle School in Tampa, Florida, librarian and media specialist Christina Vortia starts each day with lights and cameras. Starting in February 2021, a small group of 7th and 8th grade students work with Vortia to put together a daily morning television show with weather, lunch menu, and fun facts. Students learning from home are also given opportunities to submit content as well. The show is streamed in classrooms across the school in the morning.
“They come to me with ideas, and they have been growing in confidence with content they want to add,” says Vortia. The students are responsible for writing some of the scripts for the show, as well as operating cameras, sound, video, and the teleprompter.
The daily morning show was a preexisting school library program prior to Vortia’s time at Adams, but there are limitless chances to learn something new for all involved: “The students are learning how to decipher what makes news, and goes into producing news, [and] the responsibility of being dependable. They’re learning about public speaking. I often have them include facts that involve researching the library’s resources.”
The show provides an opportunity to respond to or share timely news. For Black History Month, the morning show crew promoted the school administration’s school-wide trivia game in their morning segment. When a tragedy struck and one of the Adams Middle School students passed away, students put together a special slideshow and tribute script to remember their friend and classmate.
Spectrum Community School: Spectrum A/V Club
Over 5,000 miles away, on the west coast of Canada, another school librarian is also equipping students with both confidence and technical skills through school library programs. Teacher librarian Alan Clark — along with teachers Jeff Marchi, Tom Gordon, and René Schwarz — started the Spectrum A/V Club as a school library program back in 2016 at Spectrum Community School in Victoria, B.C. The program is mainly funded by the school’s Parent Advisory Council.
Twice a week, students and staff gather in a small room in the back of the library to record original podcast series together. Students experiment with scriptwriting, editing, recording, and using various sound technologies such as FruityLoops. The students are supported by Clark, Marchi, Gordon, and Schwarz, but are also able to take chances on their own.
“This is one of those clubs where you learn by doing,” says Clark, who has worked at Spectrum for over 15 years and often serves as a voice actor and main writer for the club’s dramatic podcasts. “We don’t have guests coming in and teaching them theory or anything like that, we’re just like, ‘okay, let’s fall on our faces and then get up and try again.'”
Spectrum A/V is not only a place for students to gather technical skills, but also provides ample chances for other skills to be sharpened. The club serves as a haven for both the shy and the boisterous as well.
“As a creative writing teacher,” says Marchi, a teacher in English Language Arts and Student Leadership at Spectrum, “the number of kids I see in writing class who come down here [for A/V] have gained this little bit of confidence in themselves and their ability to present to the class. They’re taking what they’re learning here and gaining the confidence to write their own screenplays and write their own short stories and even songs.”
Students are even taking the skills beyond the school: one student, Sébastien Schwarz, went on to work as a Technical Services Representative for event technology service Encore following graduation.
Goochland County Schools: Bookmobile
Unlike the daily morning show and A/V club, some school library programs and opportunities did not exist prior to the pandemic.
Last year, in the heat of June through August 2020, three school librarians donned custom Harry Potter masks — made by a school board member — and brought their school library to the world beyond the building. Since schools were closed, Zoe Parrish, Susan Vaughan, and Sarah Smith hopped in a van full of books and drove all over Virginia to bring books to students who had not been to school in months. The project was a team effort as, according to an article in American Libraries Magazine, Goochland County provided the loan of a van and “teachers, churches, school libraries, families, and even the local YMCA were donating books for the effort.”
The experience in the Bookmobile was unforgettable, says Smith, a Library Media Specialist at Goochland Elementary School: “On the days we did the Bookmobile I would receive text messages throughout the day from friends and parents. They sent messages of thanks, or photos, or things like, ‘he hasn’t put that book down since this morning’ or ‘my kids were so thrilled to see you this morning – we are making plans for the next time.'”
According to Parrish, a Library Media Specialist at Byrd Elementary School, they continued on their designated stops through rainstorms and temperatures that reached above 100 degrees. Venturing to the designated stops every other week was worth any discomfort.
“To me, the Bookmobile project was about so much more than reading,” says Vaughan, a Library Media Specialist at Randolph Elementary School. “It was about building positive relationships with our community.”
Although the Bookmobile’s run did not extend beyond last summer, Smith, Parrish, and Vaughan hope that similar school library programs will form in the future.
Carter G. Woodson K-8 Leadership Academy: Yoga
Chardae Duffy, library media specialist at Dr. Carter G. Woodson PK–8 School in Tampa, Florida, reacted to the pandemic with yoga poses. Once a week, Duffy spends a half hour focusing on a program about yoga, meditation, and reading with each class of pre-kindergarten to 3rd grade students.
“I began the program this year in an effort to ease pandemic anxieties, worries, and home issues directly linked to COVID-19 in an already underserved area,” says Duffy. The librarian decided to bring yoga to the classrooms at Woodson in order to equip students with coping skills as well as the physical and mental benefits the practice brings. The program is also accessible to students learning at home, and involves a combination of literature about mindfulness followed by physical yoga practice.
The lessons are proving powerful. Students are visibly applying what they’re learning, says Duffy: “The very best reaction is seeing a student upset, take themselves away from the situation, and use breathing techniques I’ve taught them to calm themselves down. The biggest take away for them is a moment of peace in a chaotic world, and life skills they can take with them anywhere.”
Duffy was also named the 2021 Hillsborough County’s Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year, and is the founder of the Boys, Books, and Barbers program that provides books in barbershops in Tampa Bay to encourage young Black and Brown boys to read.
Meadowcreek High School: Vote Woke Voting Program
In Georgia, another school librarian has empowered her students with a set of life skills they can take with them anywhere: the power to bring about change on a national level.
Cicely Lewis, a school librarian at Meadowcreek High School in Norcross, Georgia, started a voting library program for students at Meadowcreek. If the name sounds familiar, Lewis was recently named School Librarian Journal’s 2020 School Librarian of the Year. Lewis started the nationwide Read Woke program that challenges students to read books by or about underrepresented folks and then respond in a visible, written fashion.
In a similar way, the “Vote Woke” program challenged students to both learn and take action. As the political scene in the United States boiled over during the 2020 election, there was no better time to educate students about their voting rights and encourage them to register to vote.
“I think my Voting Program has empowered students to stand up and make a difference,” Lewis says. “I think it has shown them that their voice does matter. The Georgia senate run-off race was historic and they are proud to know that they were a part of it. I think ‘Read Woke’ makes our students feel seen and it also gives them a way to have their voices heard.”
No matter how dark the year may seem, the world already looks like a brighter place with librarians like Christina Vortia, Alan Clark, Zoe Parrish, Susan Vaughan, Sarah Smith, Chardae Duffy, and Cicely Lewis guiding the students of today.
Want to be even more inspired by the work of librarians and their library programs? Read my piece on Hydrogen Peroxide, Lollipops, and Toilet Paper: Check out Pandemic Library Take-Home Kits.