Teen Read Week: It’s Written in the Stars at Liberty Middle School

I am one of the lucky 2018 Teen Read Week grantees, and I need to give a huge THANK YOU shout out to YALSA and Dollar General for providing funds to help me make this an astronomically successful week (see what I did there?).

I work in a middle school in central Virginia. We have about 1100 students and each year we struggle to meet the needs of both our high achieving students while balancing it with the more urgent need of reading scores on state tests. I think I helped with both this year! Students did not have school on the Monday of Teen Read Week due to a holiday. However, we began advertising our events with daily announcements, posters, and of course an eye-catching display as soon as you entered the library.

We needed daily announcements so that students could sign up for the programs I offered. It may seem as if we have a captive audience, but many teachers are reluctant to allow students to leave their class for a library program due to the almighty state test preparation. Once a student signs up, I have to create passes to leave class, forward names to teachers who have them in class, get teacher permission and get approval from administration. For every program event. Fortunately, I can attest to the fact that the students LOVE to come to library programs and are willing to miss even their “fun” classes or lunch to attend.

We started with Tuesday during homeroom and into the next class period. I had a local college astronomy professor come out and meet with about 25 students to discuss what he called “Cosmology 101”. He shared a lot of technical and interesting information, answered questions, and invited them to come to the observatory the college (Randolph Macon) has just renovated.  Some of the kids even took notes! I was able to promote our non-fiction books about the universe, black holes, stars, planets, and more, and checked several out at the end of this program.

Wednesday we had middle grade author Kathryn Erskine come spend he entire day with us. She has written several books, but the one she focused on was called The Incredible Magic of Being. This book’s young male protagonist is fascinated with all things space related and is in search of a new comet so it can be named after him. Ms. Erskine, or Kathy as she insisted I call her, was gracious and informative as she spoke with 4 separate sets of students who had won seats in a drawing. In all, we had over 225 student attend her sessions! Kathy spoke about her writing process and the research she needed to do to be familiar with her characters & setting, as well as stars, comets, and black holes. I gave away copies of her books in another drawing for each session, and she autographed them and posed for pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday I held a small Teen Read Week Student Book Club meeting over lunch. I had purchased copies of the supernatural middle grade book called Friends for Life. We were only permitted to meet for one hour, but it was AMAZING. The kids, a mix of boys and girls, loved the book and talked non-stop about it. I had a real mix of ability level readers too. I was so engrossed in our conversations that I totally forgot to take pictures! I provided pizza, brownies and soda for this lunch meeting. As a result of their passion for the book, I am already planning to use this same novel as a reading program mid-year based on youth mental health and depression awareness. I wasn’t sure if the kids thought it would be a good idea, but when I ran it by them the kids gave me an enthusiastic YES! I have the name of a local foundation that provides certified and free counselors to come onsite for programs I can relate to this book.

All of these events needed to be advertised via our school daily announcements, posters, emails to families, our library Schoology page, our school website, and our school Facebook page. I also was able to get it up on our school kiosk.

I do need to mention that the total cost for this event far exceeded the $1000 grant. The author visit alone was $2000 for the full day. I had an option of half day for $1000, but thought it was worth using additional  fundraising dollars to allow Kathy to see more students. And because I am in a school with 36% free and reduced lunch (that means 36% are in the very low socio-economic bracket), I can’t charge students for anything. When I provide programs, books, and food I use my own library funds and give books away or allow them to borrow them without adding multiple copies to my inventory. That means a LOT of fundraising! Total cost for this program was probably about $2200, but thanks to YALSA and Dollar General I only footed about half. Well worth it to reach in total over 300 students ages 12 & 13. That’s almost a third of our school population that I was able to show that “It’s Written in the Stars: READ”!

Kim McCallister is the Librarian at Liberty Middle School in Ashland, Virginia.

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