January 17, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Five Ways I Created Opportunity at My Title I School

About four years ago, I reported to my new role as a teacher librarian at George W. Carver Elementary School in Lexington Park, MD, a Title I school. We serve 645 students, 82 percent of who receive free and reduced-price meals. Since I started, we have created a computer science program, launched a maker space, and turned the media center into a learning commons in order to promote collaboration, teamwork, inquiry, and a designed-based thinking mindset. We’ve opened ourselves up to community volunteers and local partnerships. With all that, we are changing how students view themselves, their world, reading, and libraries—one day at a time.

Through all this, I’ve learned a lot about how to create opportunity for my patrons in the library. Here are five key strategies to help you do the same.

Manage the money

Companies often offer deals throughout the year on anything from robots to print and ebooks, but those who don’t subscribe to their distribution list might miss out on these sales.

Reach out to the representatives from companies you buy from to see what deals they can offer. Often there are loyalty rewards, buy-one-get-one sales, and other deals that are not advertised. Even if really good items are on sale after your budget is used up, dig into other funding pots, such as book fair profits or grants, to take advantage of those bargains.

Consider asking for donations of items. Try posting on the library’s website, in a newsletter, or through a school all-call the materials needed in the library. Take time to look around for some grant opportunities. The American Association of School Librarians offers a variety of awards, grants, and scholarships. Don’t narrow the focus to specific library-based opportunities, but broaden the scope to incorporate STEM or maker spaces.

Nurture community partnerships. Look locally for assistance building or maintaining a library program. In my area, we have a local, community maker space that we tried to form a partnership with for some time. While sharing the physical space in this case is not feasible, sharing ideas is. Consider partnering with a local bookstore in the way that  Andy Plemmons, media specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary School in Athens, GA, does with the Avid Bookshop.

One of my favorite partnerships had to do with Poem in Your Pocket Day. We joined with Heritage Chocolates and our local public library. Each student had their poem in their pocket, shared it, and I also appreciated partnering with Dr. Chris Koterwas, an orthodontist, for International Dot Day. Koterwas’s office provided us with more than 700 rocks and markers. With these, built a our school, and also sent kindness rocks to 21 classes around the globe whom we had connected with during International Dot Day week.

Be victorious with volunteers

It’s no secret that Title I schools face challenges in recruiting and keeping volunteers. My school is no different, and creative thinking is needed to meet this challenge. In the past, we would get a parent or two to help out, and then they would stop coming—or volunteers would not complete work as we envisioned. To improve this situation, we let our front office know that we were struggling with volunteers and our workload. Now, the office often sends substitute teachers our way when they have down time in their schedules. We also got the word out to our staff members, and now, a retired staff member comes in every week. We reached out to local educational institutions and are looking forward to welcoming more volunteers from there.

Amplify student voice

For some students, the pace of life at home may feel like it moves at warp speed. There’s value is slowing down and allowing students to know how much they matter—and that their voice is important. Empower students to share their voices wherever they can. Consider including them in library programming through surveys and advisory committees. Involve them in projects for the school, such as creating signage or helping with beautification and preservation of the grounds.

Start a student book committee, or make global connections for your students through Google Hangouts or Skype. Our kids have met with an International School in England; an elementary school in Austin, TX, and many others. Partnerships with local public libraries are also valuable.

But most importantly, amplify your students’ voices at the district level. Let library/learning commons space. They can do this in so many ways: they can send screencasts of their work to the superintendent or school principal or put together digital presentations to share pictures, videos, and podcasts. They can enter student contests, such as ones through the Library of Congress. Students can serve on committees or participate in student/teacher lunches. All of these things help show how library activities are empowering them to face the world.

Choose your attitude

All schools face challenges every day, and those serving students from low-income families have their share of unique ones. Over the years, I’ve learned that some of us flourish in Title I schools, while others of us feel more effective in other placements. We need to choose happiness, have grit, and be able to bounce back from hurdles. Our students need us to want to be there—and to want to make a difference in their lives.

Look for joy each day. A librarian post in a Title I school is in a trusted, important, amazing position. We need to embrace it—and along the way, take time for ourselves so that we can bring the very best to our students.


April Wathen (@AprilWathen), SLJ’s 2017 Hero of Equitable Access, is Teacher Librarian at George W. Carver Elementary School in Lexington Park, MD.

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Comments

  1. Great tips. I love my Title I library! Also, check out First Book for books & resources. Donor’s Choose is also a great resource. I’ve used it to fund things that weren’t in the budget, such as starting a makerspace.

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