You may have already read about YALSA’s IMLS funded project, “Future Ready with the Library.” It’s focus is on helping library staff in small, rural, and tribal libraries to support the college and career readiness of middle school students. That’s right, middle school students. Some people I talk with wonder, why start at that young age? Isn’t that too young? These are teens who are as much as 7 years away from graduating high school, why make them think that far in advance?
Those are all good questions and it’s understandable why they get asked. The thing is that what we do in libraries to support middle school student (and beyond) passions and interests, really helps them to think about pathways to college and career success, even if it’s not overtly presented that way. For example:
- Activities that integrate youth voice in design and implementation help students of any age, including middle school students, gain critical thinking and problem solving skills along with collaboration, communication, and creation. These are all skills they will need forever – in high school, in college, and in the workplace.
- When we give teens the chance to be mentored by others, for example an engineer volunteers as a part of a program the library sponsors, and through that volunteering middle schoolers get to talk with the engineer about the work they do, how they got to do what they do, and so on. That helps the young teens to think about, “would I want to do this?” Or, “What would I have to do to work in that field?”
- Looking at what industries are in the community and then giving teens the chance to learn the skills embedded in one or more of those specific industries. When thinking about this I’m reminded of the webinar YALSA sponsored in July with Salvador Avila. One of the things Salvador talked about was that in his community, Las Vegas, a primary industry is entertainment. By giving teens the chance to learn DJing skills, a popular program the library sponsors, he’s connecting them to a local industry in which they might ultimately work. The learning doesn’t just happen with equipment at the library, the teens go out into the community and learn about DJing as a career and even perform at different events. What a great pathway to a career.
- Learning what middle school student’s passions and interests are and then giving them the chance to learn about the pathways they might take in order to pursue that into adulthood. Libraries have for years provided afterschool opportunities to gain creative writing skills and learn from authors what life is like as an author. But, what about other areas that teens are interested in? I would bet, that almost anything teens in your community have a passion or interest in, you (and the teens) could connect with experts in that profession and have those experts work with teens on meaningful afterschool activities that highlight what working in that area really encompasses and requires.
These are just a few ideas. As you think about how you are going to help teens in your community succeed in life, don’t forget that there are lots of activities beyond SAT and ACT prep and how to complete FAFSA forms that will help prepare even middle school students for life after high school. These activities don’t have to include specific stated connections to college or career. They can simply be opportunities to gain skills, see what life is like for people who have taken a variety of different career paths, and to muse about what their own futures could look like. I bet if you put your mind to it, you’ll see that there are some things you are already doing that fit this focus and many community partners that you can work with to move these ideas forward.