In honor of Teen Read Week and all the creative ideas librarians are busy planning and implementing this time of year, the Teen Read Week committee decided that we would post interviews with some of the winners of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation’s Teen Read Week grant. Ten librarians won $1,000 to implement their idea for Teen Read Week within their communities, but why only list their names in the official press release? We know you want to know what their grant-winning idea was, so this week and next week, be sure to check the YALSA blog as we pepper you with the interviews where we give you all the details.

The lovely Cathy Andronik

The lovely Cathy Andronik

First up, is Cathy Andronik from Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, CT. The two high schools in this urban area about an hour north of New York City each serve around 1700 students and the librarians frequently share good ideas, including their lunchtime book clubs. This could very well be because they used to work in the same school, as Cathy explains. “Until about three years ago, there were two librarians at each high school; then budget cuts forced a staff reduction to one per high school.  Seniority enters the picture, and my wonderful colleague ended up at our crosstown rival.  She and I had run a lunchtime book club together for several years already, sometimes through a YALSA grant, other times scrounging money wherever we could find it.  We worked so well together, we promised each other that somehow we would find a way to combine our two clubs.”

A big source of inspiration for both book clubs is the Nutmeg Book Award, the children’s book award for the state of Connecticut sponsored by both the Connecticut Library Association and the Connecticut Association of School Librarians. Cathy has had a leadership role with the Nutmeg Book Award, serving at various points on both the selection and steering committee and as the Chair of the High School Book Award committee. The book club has always been limited for size since the books read are purchased for each student to keep, and there is always a maximum of 25 students in each club. Usually the students choose four out of the ten finalists on which to focus.

This is where the Dollar General Literacy Foundation grant comes in for Cathy. She constructed her proposal to not only cover the cost of the books for both book clubs at the high school level, but also to include food costs so the clubs can have joint conversations via videoconferencing that stimulate not just thoughts about the reading but connections between schools for high school students in Norwalk.

Both the students and Cathy’s school administration were thrilled with the news she had won, but they were hardly surprised. “I’m already sort of known as the Queen of the Grants here, since I’ve landed so many, albeit small ones.  As for the kids in the club, they were VERY excited.  Last year I applied in December for a DonorsChoose grant to keep us running through the end of the school year, three books.  The months went by with little funding ($25 here, $10 there).  The grant application was days away from expiring.  Finally, in late March or early April, an organization funded us in full.  And my club members STILL managed to finish three fairly long books to talk about, actually meeting the last time during final exams!  So they are very, very aware of how tenuous and dependent upon the kindness of strangers the existence of our group is.”

Channel your inner Cathy Andronik by identifying a great program or idea that you would like to further which fits into the scope of promoting teen recreational reading and/or works with the theme of Teen Read Week for that year. The Teen Read Week program grant application usually has a deadline around the end of June/beginning of July and with $1,000 at your disposal, you could have a lot of fun funding a great Teen Read Week activity for your teen constituency.

Congratulations to Cathy Andronik and the teen book clubs of Norwalk’s high schools. We hope they have tremendous fun Seeking the Unknown this Teen Read Week.

Courtney Lewis is the Director of Libraries at Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School in Kingston, PA. She feels she has the best job as she gets to work with great students and faculty, play with technology, teach information literacy and talk about books all day long. Spending time with her book club is like herding enthusiastic cats, but it’s completely worth it.  Courtney also chairs the 2013-14 Teen Read Week Committee this year.

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