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Beyond the Walls: Building a Vibrant School Library Community

Everything in a school needs to have relevance to the world. I’ll go a step beyond that comment by asserting that true education doesn’t just relate to the world, it encompasses the world. When my school library providing its best educational opportunities and services, the students are not limited by time and space. They see portals, opportunities, and windows to the world -- through print, non-print, electronic, and interactive experiences and resources. To accomplish this learning environment, I believe in bringing the community into the school as much as I do providing connections for our students beyond our walls. When students see their parents, community leaders, practicing professionals, and other adults actively engaged in school activities and events, it helps them to understand the value and importance of literacy in living a rich, meaningful and productive life. Moreover, the community members we invite to engage in our program are often amazed at the richness and value of the modern school library and what it means to a student’s educational journey. It’s the very best form of advocacy I’ve ever experienced.

One way we build community in our school and beyond is to offer our “Ages & Pages: Family Literacy Program.” Our students and their families are invited to read common text (this year we offered two selections: Donald Davis’s Tales from a Free-Range Childhood and Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks). Working with a committee of teachers, parents, students and community representatives, we created a program that launched with an author visit (Donald Davis) at storytelling concerts for the students during the day and the school community and families at night. Over 300 people attended the evening event, which included a chili supper, author meet and greet, digital storytelling information station, and family discussion guides and optional projects for students to work on with their parents. We invited local business partners and potential partners to join us, believing they would appreciate the opportunity to participate in an engaging school event without being asked to contribute to the event in any way. Currently, over 100 students are now reading and working through the project guide with their parents. In the spring, we will showcase the best family projects at the culmination event. We will also use the culmination event as a forum to recognize at least 50 additional students for reading accomplishments, such as book review blog posts and top passport readers in our incentives program.

Since the kick-off of “Ages and Pages,” we have recruited new business partners, received direct donations to our library, had several community groups request tours and observations of our library in action and made connections with alumni from our original high school graduates (class of ’62 in particular). Over half of the students participating in this program are truly at-risk in one regard or another. The parents who attended our kick-off event had an opportunity to evaluate the activities of the event: 100% gave the event an A or a B. 98% of the parents said that the school would benefit from reading programs and activities that engage parents in reading books with their children. In a middle/high school setting, I have to say we were overjoyed with this feedback. After kicking off the program, the students involved have apparently shared their enthusiasm with their peers. Each week, we have additional students come in to enroll in the program so they can be a part of the literary buzz.

I think the most important element of building community within and beyond the walls of a school library is keeping a sharp eye out for opportunities to let people shine. Whether that be showcasing student’s multimedia projects, inventing an awards program, inviting professionals to share their expertise with students, giving students an authentic audience to share their findings in a research project, asking community members to help judge contests or to give input into the design of a new initiative, there is so much value to fostering a sense of sharing and pride in a school environment. With the library being the heart of a vibrant school, the sky is the limit on how these opportunities can look. Each time I challenge myself to find a new way to expand our reach, I realize what comes back to our students benefits them far beyond what I could ever dream.
Posted by NCSLMA Member Gina Webster
School Library Media Coordinator
Walkertown Middle-High School
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
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