30 Days of Social Justice: Students and School Culture

YouthTruth, a national nonprofit, that “harnesses student perceptions to help educators accelerate improvements in their K-12 schools and classrooms,” recently conducted a survey about school culture that answers the question: “How do students feel about the culture of their schools?” YouthTruth surveyed 80,000 students, grades five through 12 from 2013 – 2016; this was an anonymous survey across 24 states in a partnership with public schools. The results of the survey brought four major elements to light, but library staff can also use these results to make their library spaces more culturally positive.

The first alarming  fact is that only one in every three students would say their school is culturally positive. Only 30 percent of high school students believe their school is culturally positive, while 37 percent of middle school students believe this. There are many ways the library can make their spaces  culturally positive, especially if your library is located in a diverse community. Library staff can provide information, displays, book lists, and programs about cultures. Periodically, my branch offers a program to teen and adult customers called Discover Another Culture. For this, a volunteer from a specific country comes in to share about their culture. In November, the library held a program about Japan; library customers not only learned about Japan, but learned how to make origami too. There are a wealth of possibilities the library can utilize to make their spaces culturally positive to help fill in the gap that some schools are lacking.

The second fact found may not be alarming to too many. It states that students know they are less respectful to adults than adults are to them. From my experience, I would agree with this fact. Local high school teacher, Catherine Baker states:

“[Teens] think we are there to work for them, so it’s our job to be respectful and as helpful as we can possibly be to them. It’s our job to get them to pass, not the other way around.”

Teens don’t see that respect goes both ways, and that teachers and students are working together. To combat this, libraries could offer programs about respect, but it may work better to talk to teens one-on-one. Often, my branch will have students in the library on the weekday who have been suspended. It may be helpful to talk to them about why they are suspended, and what they can do to make their situation better. Building relationships with teens can also be a positive influence on their life; maybe they don’t have someone they can talk to, etc. and library staff and easily be that outlet.

Next, it was found that less than half of students feel that discipline at their school is fair; it totaled at 37 percent believe it’s fair. This is further broken down by ethnicity.

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Courtesy of YouthTruth

Especially with growing racial tensions due to current events, it is especially important that school and library staff treat everyone equally. Although there is not much disciplining in the library when dealing with teens, there can be some issues that arise. It is important for all library staff to remember that everyone is equal. It is also equally important for library staff to remember we need to be positive and treat everyone equally in the library, as we always want to make a good example and impression on all library customers, especially teens.

Lastly, students who identify as “other than male or female report less positive perceptions of school culture.” As you can see below, students who identify in another way than male or female feel significantly lower about positive school culture.

lfsv-culture-gender-4

Courtesy of YouthTruth

This issue has been going on for some time, and it is important to combat this. Although there are ideas, feelings, and laws that hinder a positive culture in our schools and libraries, there are still many things library staff can do to make everyone, no matter of their gender feel comfortable, safe, and accepted. For instance, the article mentions that the only way to understand if students  feel their “school’s culture is healthy and supportive” is by asking students. This is very true about the library too. Library staff could be seen as a supportive person in a teen customer’s life, and we want to be open to discussions, but without over stepping our grounds. It is extremely important for librarians to be supportive, especially if students in their community do not feel they go to a culturally positive school.

An active approach to all of these issues, that can happen in the library, is to have a teen council. Teens could come together to talk about important issues, how it affects them, and what the library can do to resolve these issues, etc. Teens could work with staff to make displays, flyers, or have open discussion programs with other teen customers about how they feel, or what the library can do for them. By getting conversations started, library staff and teens, together, can easily make a difference in their community, and more.

Share some ideas or what you have done to make your library culturally positive for your teen customers.

About Maeve Dodds

Maeve is a Teen Lead Librarian for Charlotte Mecklenburg County, University City Branch, in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has worked in adult and children services, and was previously an elementary school media specialist. She likes reading in her hammock and trying new foods.
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