Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Meeting Students Where They Are

Finding creative ways to engage students is a challenge that I love.  I’ve discovered along the way that sometimes I must take a step back to assess a situation in order to meet my students where they are. 

I discovered my first semester at my new school that library fines were a problem.  A BIG problem.  My philosophy used to be that students needed to be held accountable for the library books they checked out and pay the fines they owed.  Period.  It’s called being responsible.  A life lesson.  But it also felt like beating my head against a wall.  So, I decided to work with the situation.  Compromise.  Meet the students where they were.  I wasn’t going to simply waive students’ fines.  That was too easy.  I was going to make them work for it. 

I have been taking volunteer groups to the Nashville Rescue Mission to serve dinner since 2007.  It has always been rewarding to watch the students serve their community and work hard doing it, all with happy hearts.  I instantly knew this was the answer to my school’s library fine problem.  So many of our students are recipients of services and charity that they need opportunities like this to give back, say thank you, pay it forward.  Giving their time volunteering to this worthy organization was the solution to my BIG problem.  My students were going to “volunteer off” their library fines at the Nashville Rescue Mission.  My principal and district lead librarian happily gave me the green light. 

I’ve done this enough times that I know to keep it simple: 1 car, 4 students, 3 hours, 3-4 times per year.  My formula is $10 waived per hour worked.  By the end of the evening, a student can work off $30.  It’s a win-win situation.  If you are interested, visit the Nashville Rescue Mission and reserve volunteer spaces online: http://www.nashvillerescuemission.org/volunteer/

over $70 waived on this visit 12/2/2014

As a librarian the ultimate goal is to promote literacy to patrons in all kinds of shapes, forms, and fashions.  One unique program I am very proud of is one I’ve spent this year developing.  I was new to the high school tier the spring of 2014, and I was brainstorming ideas for the upcoming school year.  It occurred to me that my school had a very small but overlooked subgroup of patrons who weren’t being served—teen parents!  I instantly knew I had to meet these students where they were.  In the beginning I didn’t think much of it: I would spend a little of my allocated funds on some children’s books and meet with these students to educate them on the importance of early childhood literacy. I mentioned this to my district lead librarian whose excitement led to the snowballing of this program.  The next thing I knew Limitless Libraries was going to fund the project and Bringing Books to Life was going to provide me a list of children’s books AND create “reading tips” book plates for many of the titles.  I provided lunch for these students and showed them the new children’s collection created especially for them, presented information on early childhood literacy, gave them children’s books from Book ‘em to start a personal library for their children at home, and showed them how to enroll their children in Books from Birth.  The collaboration among community resources has been amazing!  Seamless.  The biggest challenge of this program has been getting buy in from teen parents, so I continue to think of ways to engage these students. 

A collection for teen parents may not suit your demographic, but you can ask the question: “Who are my overlooked patrons?”  You may even discover that this group might be parents!

Another idea I’m working on to “meet my students where they are” is to literally meet them where they are.  I want to set up a bookmobile of sorts—a cart loaded down with great reads (and DVDs, too).  Travel to the cafeteria during lunches.  Camp out in the hallways between classes.  Visit classrooms.  Be in the students’ faces. J If you don’t have time to go to the library, the library will come to you!

Every library has its own unique situations and challenges.  Consider how you can meet your students where they are.
R. Coutras
MNPS Librarian


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