New Year, New Ideas: Knockout Programming for 2017

From astronomy and salsa storytime to family literacy and more, these programming ideas for the year ahead hit it out of the park.
Teens participating in Brooklyn Public Library’s T4 program Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library

Teens participating in Brooklyn Public Library’s T4 program
Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library

From astronomy and salsa storytime to family literacy and more, these programming ideas for the year ahead hit it out of the park.

tech innovations

With a grant from the aerospace company Boeing, the Chicago Public Library (CPL) will host maker-meets-STEM family science nights where “mentors from the community engage with families around Boeing-designed challenges,” says children’s services director Elizabeth McChesney. The program for kids ages 9–12 and their parents will use Curiosity Machine, an online engineering platform from Iridescent, a nonprofit promoting STEM education to girls and families. The events will take place in “three diverse communities in Chicago, with the plan to turn the librarians into cohorts who can help train and scale the program throughout CPL,” says McChesney.

The library will also open early childhood “play and STEAM centers” in 16 branches this year, which will “incorporate the natural ways in which young children are scientists, by integrating sorting, classification, and early experimentation into play sites,” says McChesney. In addition, the library will expand its “Family STEAM on the Go” backpacks, piloted for circulation last year. Funded by the Retired Electrical Engineers Association, the backpack kits contain items to complete a science project or design challenge and “are linked with books that make great read-alongs.”

The Brooklyn Public Library will continue its Today’s Teens Tomorrow’s Techies (T4) program, funded by multiple sources. T4 provides training in Microsoft Office programs, as well as Adobe Photoshop, Xcode, littleBits, iBook Author, and more to teenagers who assist technology resource specialists at the library’s 60 branches. The 80 participants receive a $200 to $500 stipend for their time—100 to 180 hours over the summer and school year—plus community service credit, says project coordinator Jackson Gomes. The teens can also take field trips to universities, museums, and businesses; participate in chat sessions with tech professionals; and join an animation/comic book club where they discuss titles and design digital stories.

The Plano (TX) Public Library will continue App Time, a storytime with a digital twist launched with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. “Each week, we introduce a new concept, such as ABCs, using books and flannels,” says community outreach librarian Rachel Hoyt. Apps further illuminate the idea. The storytime leader demonstrates two apps covering the same concept. Those with sound, such as Farm Animals by Photo Touch, are popular, as well as others that reinforce skills kids should have by kindergarten, such as identifying numbers in the Endless Numbers app.

Jennifer Hanson, director of library services at the Worcester (MA) Academy, is experimenting with virtual reality, with students taking virtual tours of ancient Rome and Pompeii via Google Maps. They’re also using the Cardboard Camera app, along with Google Street View, to take 360-degree photos of the school campus. While considering how to use this tech to document field trips, they will also explore sound and frequency while assembling a BOSEbuild Speaker Cube. In addition, one of Hanson’s students with expertise in 3-D printing will offer workshops to fellow students in what the director hopes will become a “mentorship/teaching model.”

The Lindenhurst Memorial Library (NY) will continue its popular new Tech Take Apart Day event, according to assistant director Lisa Kropp. Teen volunteers run the program for kids in grades two and up, who bring their caregivers, and screwdrivers, along. They discover what the inside of electronic devices—discarded computer towers, telephone sets, and small appliances collected by a youth services librarian—look like.

The Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library division of the New York Public Library will continue its tech programs for kids with low vision or no vision, including Arduino workshops for kids and teens. “We’re part of the Blind Arduino Project, which aims to bring together students, hobbyists and educators around the world to learn and brainstorm about nonvisual techniques for coding and building Arduino projects,” says assistive technology coordinator Chancey Fleet.

The library will also circulate early Braille literacy kits, designed to make learning Braille fun, and host high school test prep workshops led by a guidance counselor who is blind and who walks teens through the SAT and ACT. A summer program will inform blind or visually impaired teenagers about accessible apps for reading, note-taking, research, and getting around the city.

Teens participating in Brooklyn Public Library’s T4 program (opposite). Tech Take Apart Day at Lindenhurst (NY) Memorial Library (above left). At Chicago Public Library, a girl tackles a Boeing-inspired challenge to create a satelite design (above right) From left: Photo by Rosalia Millan; Photo courtesy of Elizabeth McChesney

Teens participating in Brooklyn Public Library’s T4 program (opposite). Tech Take Apart Day at
Lindenhurst (NY) Memorial Library (above left). At Chicago Public Library, a girl tackles
a Boeing-inspired challenge to create a satelite design (above right)
From left: Photo by Rosalia Millan; Photo courtesy of Elizabeth McChesney

Community and justice-oriented

The Iroquois branch of the Louisville (KY) Free Public Library (LFPL) will continue partnering with Educational Justice, a local nonprofit dedicated to eliminating educational inequity, according to branch manager Valerie Viers. High-achieving high school students, called activists, meet with library patrons, known as achievers, for weekly tutoring and mentoring sessions. Many achievers come from refugee and immigrant families, says Viers, and “can’t rely on their parents for homework help because of language barriers. Educational Justice helps these students get the help that they need.”

Megan Godbey, adult literacy coordinator at the Nashville (TN) Public Library (NPL), plans to reach out to the Nashville Adult Literacy Council to offer family literacy workshops at library branches. “Reading and literacy are often interwoven across generations in the same family,” says Godbey. “As parents and grandparents who might be struggling readers learn alongside their little ones, [we] hope they’ll feel comfortable enough to consider enrolling in a free class or two.”

Niq Tognoni, studio coordinator for Studio NPL, the Nashville system’s in-branch and mobile maker spaces, plans to hit the road and bring hands-on STEM programming to eight NAZA (Nashville After-Zone Alliance) sites, free after-school programs at Metro Nashville middle schools. The Studio utilizes a Frontiers in Urban Science Foundation (FUSE) grant from the Noyce Foundation.

Tending the garden at Clarke Middle School in Athens, GA Courtesy of Shawn Hinger

Tending the garden at Clarke Middle School in Athens, GA
Courtesy of Shawn Hinger

Anita Cellucci, finalist for SLJ’s 2016 School Librarian of the Year, will focus on social justice with Be Hope: Teen, a collaborative series between Westborough (MA) High School and the local public library. Cellucci envisions participants reading pertinent YA titles and activities such as a “panel discussion with teens from the community regarding cultural diversity; a speaker series with community members and possibly the author of any books used in the program; a poetry slam; socially based maker activities; and community art.”

With a retirement home across the street from the Clarke Middle School in Athens, GA, library media specialist Shawn Hinger is launching a new program called Open Books, Open Doors, matching residents of the retirement community with struggling readers, who will meet in the school library once a week. The idea came from a teacher whose mother lives in the facility, reports Hinger, who plans to write a Foundation for Excellence grant to buy books.

Looking to the science of sustainability, Hinger also plans to design kits for her maker space to help students plant an herb garden and begin a compost pile. “We are an urban school, and many of our students are unaware of where food really comes from,” she says. Last year, Hinger added books related to sustainability to her collection; now the kids will “put the information in the books into action.”

Media literacy and reading

Sabrina Carnesi’s sticky notes identify books for buddies to read together Courtesy of Sabrina Carnesi

Sabrina Carnesi’s sticky notes identify
books for buddies to read together.
Courtesy of Sabrina Carnesi

Hinger, whose middle school just went 1:1 with Chromebooks, is working with her school’s counselor to start “technology counseling groups targeted to kids who have trouble with self-control when it comes to their personal learning devices,” she says. “I’m a big fan of tech in schools. But if these problems keep getting pushed under the rug, they will eventually become much larger issues [with] far-reaching effects on our society.” Hinger and the counselor will co-facilitate the sessions.

Deborah Althoff Will, IMC coordinator at the Zion-Benton Township High School in Zion, IL, realized a few years ago that her students at the high school, almost 60 percent of whom come from low-income families, needed better college prep in research methods. After implementing research and citation skills in freshman computer tech courses, “our plan is to add news literacy to our freshman English curriculum, wherein we design a scavenger hunt, web resources, and Kahoot! games centered on teaching students to ascertain what is real news and what is fake,” she says. Students’ bibliographies will note source credibility based on recommendations from the Digital Resource Center from Stony Brook University. During Teen Tech Week (March 5–11), “we will feature TED Talks on the importance of ascertaining information sources and being critical thinkers about Internet news.”

Lisa Nowlain, youth librarian for Nevada County (CA) Community Library (NCCL), also plans to “support media and information literacy” during Teen Tech Week. “We will be discussing fake news and examining photos, and I’m hoping to work with school librarians in the area to discuss sources.”

Brenda Kahn, library media specialist at the Tenakill Middle School in Closter, NJ, is teaching a new class, Digital Media Literacy, to sixth graders. The students “research topics they are passionate about,” mostly endangered animals, says Kahn. “They learn about databases and authoritative resources, note-taking, and citations,” and the resulting essay will be their script for a “news hour”-type broadcast with images and videos. Her students also created podcasts based on “essays about a strong food memory that is associated with a person and a holiday or some other celebration,” an idea that came from an NPR This I Believe podcast.

Artists-in-residence and storytellers

At the Boston Public Library (BPL), “Beau Kenyon, our first composer-in-residence, has been working with us to design programs that help children explore music and sound,” says Laura Koenig, team leader for children’s services at the Central Library. The first collaborative program brought a picture book author and an illustrator, Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo, to the library to help kids create multimedia art pieces based on their book The Sound of Silence (Little, Brown, 2016). “Part of Beau’s music involves creating sound collages and recording environmental sounds,” says Koenig, who hopes to further engage kids with music and tech and bring in a class from a local school to work with the composer.

Matthew Winner, who has facilitated virtual author and illustrator class visits via Skype, also likes the idea of an artist-in-residence. In 2017, Winner, library media specialist at Ducketts Lane Elementary School in Howard County, MD, wants to “coordinate a series of virtual visits by the same illustrator with the same class in order to support making an original work,” he says. “Like an artist-in-residence program, I hope to provide an environment where my students can learn from a professional and that we can create something together.”

Winner also wants to try cross-grade projects in 2017, exploring ways to collaborate between elementary school students and those in middle or high school. He envisions projects such as “app or game design, community outreach, coding, storytelling, and other topics” that capitalize on what each student can bring to the table.

Cellucci’s forthcoming after-school program Telling Our Truth will bring students, teachers, and volunteers together to tell their “individual stories,” she says, with attendees using art, technology, and photojournalism to express themselves. Cellucci will reach out to community members to “share their stories of heritage, culture, and rich diversity through storytelling.” A poetry initiative, “Positive Voice through Poetry,” will build on her work as a co-advisor for a local teen poetry slam team; she hopes to have poetry events at the school, the library, and “locations all across town.”

To support visual literacy and “cultural competency,” Nowlain will launch a monthly Picture Book Art Club, open to kids ages 5–10, at the NCCL in 2017. “Every month we will focus on a picture book in the #OwnVoices category, and make art based on the art of the picture book,” she says.

In Louisville, Viers is planning a new food and culture series at LFPL. “Local chefs will teach recipes from the variety of cultures that are found in our service area, using vegetables that can be grown in a raised-bed garden,” she says. “It’s a chance to teach kids where food comes from and to introduce our community [members] to their neighbors. Presentations will also include cultural information and best practices on how to grow the food in the recipes.”

International dance is coming to the LFPL too: the first program in a dance series will feature “salsa dancers performing and teaching after one of our bilingual Spanish-English storytimes,” says Viers, with Bollywood, flamenco, and more to follow, possibly in conjunction with bilingual storytimes.

“There is nothing I won’t try” to motivate the reluctant readers—including hiding fast food and mall coupons in certain genres, says Sabrina Carnesi, library media specialist at Crittenden Middle School in Newport News, VA. “What I really wanted was for my urban [middle schoolers] to start some natural dialogues” about books on their own. Carnesi buys high-interest contemporary fiction and biographies in triplet and displays the packaged titles with a sticky note: “This is a buddy book; go find some buddies.” Buddy groups who check out all the books and read them receive lunch passes to chat with Carnesi at the library. Popular picks include Malorie Blackman’s “Naughts and Crosses” series (S. & S.) and Anthony Robles’s biography Unstoppable: From Underdog to Undefeated (Avery, 2012).

ESSA in 2017

Audrey Church, president of American Association of School Librarians (AASL), plans “continued support for school librarians across the country as the Every Student Succeeds Act [ESSA] is implemented.” Working through state affiliates, AASL offered more than 30 workshops last year to “unpack the language of ESSA” and to highlight opportunities for school libraries and librarians. AASL is also revising its 2007 Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and 2009 Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs.

Family focus

In 2016, the Children’s Library at BPL hosted “our first slate of child-focused Pride Month programs, and we’re looking forward to expanding on [their] success,” says Koenig. Events have included “a theater piece exploring gender expression in children; storytimes that celebrated families of all kinds; a trans-inclusive playgroup offered by a local community organization; book club selections that celebrated LGBTQ kids and families, and the BPL’s first Drag Storytime featuring drag queen Jujubee,” she says. “We also threw a family-friendly Pride event in the Children’s Library after Boston’s Pride Parade, which passes by the library.”

“We find that many of the parents and caregivers who bring children to our programs don’t know what resources the library offers for adults,” adds Koenig, or they may feel uncomfortable seeking them. To bridge this gap, BPL will bring workshops from other library departments to adults in the children’s area. During a playgroup, “caregivers can engage with library resources,” ranging from Home Buying 101 to exploring subscription resources, such as Mango Languages.

Carissa Christner, youth services librarian at the Madison (WI) Public Library, is developing new programs based on an educational approach from China called Anji Play. Focusing on self-directed play, kids “play with open-ended materials such as large wooden blocks.” At each session, “they will create a ‘play story’ at the end—a drawing, maybe with written words, that will serve as an early literacy practice and an opportunity to reflect.” Christner piloted an Anji Play activity at an outdoor event with the city’s parks division.

Emily Moore, head of youth services at the Voorhees Branch of the Camden County (NJ) Library, hosted the library’s first “Late Night Baby Party” for babies ages 1–16 months and caregivers in December—and is planning more. “It was created out of my own desire to have an appropriate and understanding destination when I was on maternity leave,” she says. “Babies will enjoy music, toys, and bubbles while parents can enjoy refreshments and relatable company.”

Among the all-ages events at the Skokie (IL) Public Library is Stargazer Nights, taking place on the village green next to the library. Patrons look through library telescopes at the Moon or visible planets as they come into or out of view. “For many, this is their first experience looking through a telescope,” says youth and family program supervisor Amy Koester. “We’ve seen Jupiter and five of its moons.”

Witteveen-April_Contrib_WebApril Witteveen is a community librarian with the Deschutes Public Library system in central Oregon.

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