November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

$1 Million Gift Funds Homework Centers in L.A. Public Libraries

LAPL student zones provide homework help in low-income neighborhoods.

LAPL student zones provide homework help in low-income neighborhoods.

Some of the most disadvantaged students in Los Angeles will continue to receive after-school homework help because of a $1 million endowment from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

The donation to the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) will support homework centers in 34 Los Angeles branches. These student zones provide homeless and low-income students with a place to study as well as assistance from trained homework helpers. While all of LAPL’s 72 branches offer students free computer use, Wi-Fi, and printing, the student zones provide enhanced services including laptops, other technology and, of course, the helpers.

“More than anything, that makes the difference,” said Eva Mitnick, the director of LAPL’s Engagement and Learning Division.

The endowment will fund more LAPL student zones, increasing the total to 39 next year. Some of the funds will also be used to purchase additional technology.

“In addition to making sure the laptops, tablets, and printers are up to date, we plan to add tools such as interactive whiteboards, video creation equipment, and much more,” Mitnick said.

The student zones provide services and resources that some Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) students are not able to access in their own school libraries because of a lack of qualified librarians and updated materials. The district’s libraries have been impacted by significant budget cuts in recent years, which have resulted in the elimination of library aide positions and inadequate funding.

“We have no money for books,” says Rosemarie Bernier, a teacher librarian at Hamilton High School. She added that while she’s grateful for all of the laptops available to students at her school, the only funds she has to purchase materials come from fines for late or lost books. “The Broad Foundation grant to public libraries is a start. However, Los Angeles students need well-funded libraries with new technology and new books in an academic setting—school libraries. Students need instruction from certificated teacher librarians to develop digital and information literacy.”

1611-upfront-libhelper-el-serenoPoised to launch new partnership

Later this month, however, LAPL and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office are expected to announce a new partnership between the library system and LAUSD that will further expand services to students. Partnership details are not yet available.

As part of their work, LAPL children and youth librarians already visit LAUSD classes to raise awareness of library services and special programs, and also host class visits to the branches, Mitnick said. The new partnership will serve to formalize a lot of the informal ones already taking place.

For example, Corinda Humphrey, a young adult librarian at LAPL’s Vernon Branch, south of downtown Los Angeles, says both teachers and families regularly stop in her branch to find what they need for lessons or assignments. These include teachers from charter schools, which often don’t have libraries at all.

“A couple of teachers from the [Celerity Dyad Charter School] bring their fifth grade classes on a regular basis to check out books and many of the local preschool and kindergarten classes request class visits and school visits from our children’s librarian,” Humphrey says.

She has also coordinated “book blitzes” in which several teen librarians visit one school in order to reach many students at once.

In February 2015, for example, seven librarians saw 400 students at Animo Ralph Bunche Charter High School over a two-day period. This month, five librarians were scheduled to visit 24 English classes at Dr. Julian Nava Learning Academy, also near downtown.

LAPL also provides professional development to school librarians and in January, Mitnick says, will host all of LAUSD’s librarians at the Central Library for a workshop that will focus on the new partnership.

This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Linda Jacobson About Linda Jacobson

SLJ contributor Linda Jacobson is an education writer and editor based in the Los Angeles area.

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