Youth Engagement and Leadership – Civic Engagement for and by Teens

Hello everyone,

For December, we’re going to look at YALSA Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff #5, Youth Engagement and Leadership, considering the equity issues that involve civic engagement. Much has been discussed in the media about how so many opportunities for civic engagement intentionally or unintentionally leave out members of underrepresented citizens, including teens. A few examples of this include the exclusionary tactics within the US women’s suffrage movement; the preponderance of white men in elected posts throughout this country; and the concerns from women of color and those with disabilities regarding the Women’s March on Washington in 2017.

But all is not bad news. Libraries nationwide are doing their best to change the tide to a much more equitable future for all citizens and residents. Guest teen bloggers from the Waltham (MA) Public Library share their Civic Engagement experience with the help of their teen department head, Luke Kirkland.

FIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM MAKING ELECTION SEASON LAWN SIGNS WITH FOR FREEDOMS

By Real Talk teen leaders Alexis Sanford, Iris Alvarenga, Karina Diaz, and Christina Lafortune, with Waltham Public Library Teen Department Head Luke Kirkland

During the last two election seasons, teen leaders at the Waltham Public Library have partnered with the national arts and civic action organization For Freedoms to create an installation of lawn signs in the Library’s front lawn. Each pre-printed sign begins with a different prompt: Freedom To, Freedom Of, Freedom For, or Freedom From. Teens were invited to select one prompt and complete it with a statement they wanted adult voters and candidates to consider as Election Day approached. 

The result was a collection of statements from 350 unique teens communicating their fears and hopes for their lives, their communities, their country, and their world. And by displaying them in the Library lawn through October and up to Election Day, we invited the community to take time to reflect on teens’ thoughts and experiences, to consider the world teens will inherit, and to familiarize themselves with the world teens intend to create. Visit bit.ly/ffwpl2019 to view the entire collection.

The teen leaders driving this initiative are leaders from Real Talk, a youth-led conversation forum that is the centerpiece of Waltham Public Library Teen Room programming. After the signs came down, we took some time to reflect on the project. Here are five takeaways from our teens.

IT WAS SIMPLE

Everyone agrees that the beauty of the project is its simplicity. Alexis observes “Everyone was able to share their story through something so seemingly simple.” Teens get to make only one sign, but everyone was able to use it as an opportunity to share their story. For Iris, For Freedoms’ prompts offer enough to spark ideas, but they leave plenty of room for inspired creativity—and for upending the expectations of adults. “Even though the signs were simple and had simple phrases, so many of the phrases were so powerful. Adults didn’t expect it from us, and they were like ‘Whoa, sis!’”

SELLING IT IS TRICKY

On the other hand, finding 350 unique teens and convincing them to fill out signs with serious expressions of their perspectives is decidedly not simple. To accomplish the feat this year we spent a week engaging teens across the city: we held sign-making programs at the Library and the Boys & Girls Club; we visited Waltham High School classes and afterschool clubs; we set up stations in the WHS school library and cafeteria to make signs during lunches.

Still—at each location, it took effort to sell the project. “It’s hard to really get them to do it,” says Iris. “It’s hard to do it in a way that makes them really care.” The turning point was when teens really understood that this was an opportunity to share their unique voice without interference—that there was no grade or rubric and that no response would be censored or restricted to any specific partisan agenda. Iris observes: “Teens shut down when you tell them what to say. But when it’s about something they care about, that sells it for them.” 

In the cafeteria, Alexis noticed that people would come make signs once a crowd formed, and that teens who made signs early would go recruit friends to do the same. “Other people wanted to participate when they saw their friends participating.” So teen leaders started going directly to tables and pulling people over. Christina even employed an imperative call to action. “I started just going up to people and telling them ‘Your voice matters and it’s time for you to share it!’ It worked!”

However teens started making signs, once they started, they just wanted to make more. (Sorry! Just one per person!) In the end, says Iris, “It’s an opportunity for them to share their experiences with adults.” And teens had A LOT they wanted to say to adults!

MAKING ADULTS LISTEN

By installing the signs in the front lawn just off of Main Street, the spectacle caught the eye of every pedestrian and driver for five full weeks. And at the installation event, Karina and Iris had the opportunity to deliver a brave address with candidates for mayor, city council, and the school committee in the crowd.

“Waltham youth demand to be heard. We may be young, but our experiences are real…Do not belittle us, our opinions, or experiences solely because you may see us as just kids…The world has changed, and we young people will no longer sit on the sidelines…We are watching and we are listening and we will hold you accountable to your roles as policymakers…We aren’t just names on paper—we are living, breathing members of this city. We have dreams, aspirations, and needs just like anyone else here…Listen to our voices and include us in the decision-making process because only by including everyone in this city can we achieve democratic harmony.”

For Karina, that experience was the most powerful part of the project. “Delivering speeches and sharing our views and having adults actually listen felt amazing!”

FEELING VALIDATED

Even though adults were the intended audience, reading the signs had a powerful impact on the teens who created them. “I was really moved to see the problems that we have and be able to relate to them and support each other,” says Karina. Christina agrees: “It showed that what we experienced is valid because other people were experiencing it too.” Seeing signs they could have written themselves was a cathartic reminder that they aren’t alone in the challenges they face. But Christina also points out that it was a gift they could have only received from their peers. “All youth no matter where they were from were brought together through their struggles and found support in each other that they wouldn’t have found in adults.”

NEW PERSPECTIVES

Whether teens or kids or adults were reading the signs, the intent was always to bring to light the unseen experiences youth in our community are having. So while some signs were validating, others were eye-opening. “Seeing unique signs and realizing that people have these problems and you never knew they did” was a transformative experience for Karina. It made a difference in the way she thought about the people she sees around her every day. “It’s a moment of awakening. It makes you feel more open-minded about understanding other people’s problems.” Mission accomplished.

Want to make lawn signs with us in 2020? Visit bit.ly/lawnsigntips to get a closer picture of how we helped youth create their signs. Email Waltham Public Library Teen Department Head Luke Kirkland at lkirkland@minlib.net with questions. Contact emma@forfreedoms.org and pola@forfreedoms.org to learn more about becoming an official For Freedoms partner. And visit realtalkteens.org to check out our toolkit for developing your own youth-led conversation forum.

Thanks Alexis, Iris, Karina, and Christina! And special thanks for Waltham (MA) PL teen department lead Luke Kirkland for sharing the efforts of this amazing group of teens!

And remember, free webinars for this and each competency are available from YALSA.

Todd Krueger, YALSA President 2019-2020 | Twitter: @toddbcpl  

2019 Summer Learning Resources Grant: Programming through Partnerships Enables Life Literacy at the Library

Ashe County Public Library (ACPL) was awarded the YALSA/Dollar General Summer Learning Resources Grant. With this funding, I designed a three-month-long program for and with teens broadly called Life Literacy at the Library (LLL). LLL was designed around the county’s most recent community health needs report, which identified three key areas of need for Ashe County residents: “mental/behavioral health, substance abuse and misuse prevention, [and] physical activity and nutrition” (CHR). Through both teen advisory councils and surveys, the teens voiced their desire for programs and collection development geared toward mental health, physical health and nutrition, and structured educational programming, all of which corresponded with the health needs report.

My department began researching ways we could provide teens with programming focused on these needs. We knew that partnerships with community organizations were going to be important, but it was in my reflection on LLL at the end of the summer that I realized how crucial partnerships are to creating a robust summer program.

Programming through partnerships benefited LLL in several ways. First, we were able to offer more variety in program options for teens. We held cooking and nutrition classes, dance classes, writing workshops, mental health classes, etiquette classes, and art classes. This variety worked well because teens could select classes based on their interests and comfort level. Additionally, the variety attracted teens who do not attend regular teen programming.

Programming through partnerships also connected teens with resources in the community of which they were not aware. A large percentage of our teens are home-schooled and utilizing partnerships helped broaden their knowledge of community resources and opportunities.

Teens gather around a table filled with food.

Teens learn to cook!

It also served to initiate new relationships and strengthen existing relationships between the library and community partners. Advertising our programs and our partners brought increased awareness of teen programming at the library, and I had several community members contact me about potential future collaborations.

The other partners I discovered through existing personal relationships. For example, my sister is an accomplished choreographer and gave the library an excellent discount to lead a dance class. The instructor who led etiquette classes is a friend of library staff. The published poet who led the writing workshops is a former English teacher of my department supervisor. A Safe Home for Everyone (A.S.H.E.) led the mental health classes. A.S.H.E. is a local non-profit that provides services to individuals who have experienced domestic and intimate violence, and the library had an existing partnership with A.S.H.E. Utilizing the social connections staff members have within the community is an excellent way to bring new opportunities to the library. The benefits of partnerships also extend to the partnering organizations. Several of the organizations we partnered with have community outreach goals, and the library can help meet those goals. For example, both the Ashe County Cooperative Extension and the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts seek to conduct community outreach as part of their organization’s goals. Ashe County Cooperative Extension led the cooking and nutrition classes, and the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts led the art classes. After researching the organizations’ missions and goals on their websites, a friendly phone call was all it took to secure these partners. I would advise contacting potential partners as early as possible, since both of these specific organizations fill their calendars quickly. I contacted them in January, within the same week I found out we had received the grant award. I continued to correspond with partners via email throughout the year, answering any questions they had and offering help or assistance when possible.

Finally, programming through partnerships saved the library and library staff enormous amounts of time, effort, and money. Eight of our nine LLL programs were led and co-sponsored by partners. My department and I were solely responsible for one program, a Teen Spelling Bee. Because of the time saved through partner collaboration, I was able to devote more time to planning this event. The teens loved the Spelling Bee and based on their feedback, our county librarian even suggested making a summer spelling bee one of our recurring events. Programming through partnerships for summer learning also served to maximize the grant award. We saved an enormous amount of money by working with our partners, most of whom gave us a discounted rate because of our relationships. With our savings, I was able to purchase more collection items and offer more programs. I wanted to stretch the grant award as far as possible and provide the teens with a full summer learning program with varied learning opportunities, and partner collaborations, along with the YALSA/Dollar General Summer Resources Grant, made it happen.

Molly Price is an Adult Services Librarian at Ashe County Public Library

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2019 Summer Learning Resources Grant: The “Summer Slide” Happens in High School Too!

32 percent.  That is the number of students ages 15-17 that say they don’t read during the summer according to Education Weekly (Jones).  Of those teens who do read, they average two. Why? Distractions and lack of access to relevant and diverse reading materials during the summer months.  While I didn’t have the concrete proof of statistics that indicate teens weren’t reading over the summer, I knew in my heart this was true. The good news, 53 percent of youth readers from ages 6-17 state that they get the majority of their reading materials from the school library (Scholastic).  This speaks volumes about the importance of school libraries and their roles in preventing the “summer slide” even at the high school level. My goals through our summer reading/learning program is to encourage students to continue to increase their literacy skills by providing them with diverse, relevant and high interest materials over the summer.  Not an easy task with a shrinking budget and a lack of a diverse culture at our school. However, due to the generosity of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and YASLA Summer Learning Resources Grant that I was able to provide my students with access to a diverse and relevant summer reading program that provided each of them with a book to take home and read over the summer.  

As a high school librarian in Barre, Vermont, a socio-economically struggling school, I see everyday the decrease in student engagement surrounding the various literacy initiatives meant to decrease the achievement gap.  One of my biggest frustrations has been how to reach all students and help them to expand their summer reading and learning opportunities despite their own personal challenges in, and out of school. As a former History teacher, I recognized early in my career the importance of including multiple voices in the study of history. It is through this lens that I evaluated our school library collection and our summer reading program.  What I found was a program that was started with good intentions, but lacked student voice, relevant selections, and was more adult focused than student focused. By working with my teen advisory group and the English Department, we revamped our program and included a variety of voices meant to reach as many teens as possible.  

I love my student library advisory.  While they are typical teens and not always focused on the task at hand, they were instrumental in developing the summer reading collection to include a variety of choices.   Though our student body is majority white, we do have students of color and many LGBTQ students whose experiences need to be validated. My student advisory researched online, asked their friends and even looked over my professional magazines in order to identify various books that they felt best expressed the diversified experiences and populations found in our school.  I also put up a white board asking for suggestions in the library. Student input was invaluable in building momentum for the summer reading program this year. By allowing my teens to identify and suggest books, we created a summer reading collection that is diverse and encouraged even struggling readers to find a book of their choice. Surprisingly, one of the most popular selections for our struggling readers was the non-fiction book Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge.  It proved that given a book based on interest, even the most reluctant readers can become excited by a book.  

Cover of Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree.

As James Patterson is noted as saying, “There is no such thing as a kid who hates reading.  There are kids who love reading, and kids who are reading the wrong books.”  

While the jury is out on whether students will actually read the books we selected this year, I am hopeful that when our school wide book discussion activity occurs in September, more students will be ready to participate and be excited by their choice.    

Because of YASLA’s Summer Learning Resource Grant, I am able to provide our students here at Spaulding High School with a relevant, diverse collection of summer reading materials to choose from that not only encouraged enthusiasm for our program, but allowed student choice to increase engagement. 

Additional Resources:

Jones, S. (2019, May 08). Students Increasingly Are Not Reading Over the Summer, Poll Finds. Retrieved August 13, 2019, from https://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2019/05/student_increasingly_do_not_re.html

Miller, D. (2019, June 17). If Kids Can’t Read What They Want in the Summer, When Can They?: Opinion. Retrieved August 12, 2019, from

https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=if-kids-cant-read-what-they-want-in-the-Summer-when-can-they

KIDS & FAMILY READING REPORT. (2019). Retrieved August 14, 2019, from https://www.scholastic.com/readingreport/summer.html

https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=if-kids-cant-read-what-they-want-in-the-Summer-when-can-they

 

Christine Smith is a high school librarian in Barre, Vermont.

2019 Teen Summer Intern Program: Teens engaging children through inquiry-based play

In my rural community, opportunities for teen employment are limited mostly to food service, yard work, and babysitting. When I applied for the YALSA/Dollar General Teen Summer Intern Grant, my goal was to offer meaningful employment that would allow teens to share their skills and passions with younger children. By employing interns in this way I could have helping hands during summer activities and provide a deeper learning experience for school-age participants.

I advertised the position through the guidance office of our local high school, who kindly emailed the details to all students. We also posted the opportunity on our library website, bulletin boards, and social media. With my program goals in mind, I needed candidates who genuinely enjoyed spending time with younger children. I also hoped for applicants who had experience with hands-on STEAM activities and who could take a leadership role during activities. Several applicants had leadership experience through Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, which has sparked my interest in reaching out and partnering with these community groups. Most of my interns had experience with the Technology Student Association at the high school, which might be another source of future collaboration.
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2019 Teen Summer Intern Program: Reaching Underserved Youth through Teen Internship at Indian Prairie

As a district library, the Indian Prairie Public Library serves parts Darien, Burr Ridge, and Willowbrook, IL. One of the underserved areas in our district is known as Willowbrook Corner. In the summer, staff from the Kids & Teens department visit the Willowbrook Corner Summer Camp at Anne M. Jeans Elementary each week. We present activities to four different groups—approximately 72 kids, in grades K-5.

Our Teen Summer Intern, Carson Wagner, planned and presented the activities for the kids and led various staff members who took turns accompanying him on the visits. With Carson, the kids were able to plant seeds and learn about gardening, create Makey Makey banana pianos, play with a variety of musical instruments that the library circulates, make catapults, complete various art projects, and more. He taught them several cooperative group games, like Frogger, which he incorporated into his visits. On the last day, Carson delivered prize books. Each of the children received a new book to keep.
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Taking Teens to ALA

It’s 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning, two weeks after the end of school, when four teenage girls on their summer vacation meet me at school to get on a minibus and head to DC. Let me repeat—four teenagers came to school during the summer at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Why?? ALA Annual of course!

Before I get into how awesome the day was with my teens, I would like to thank YALSA for providing my teens with the opportunity to come to ALA. My teens were a part of the session that YALSA hosted to receive input on the nominees for the 2020 Best Fiction for Young Adults. Along with the opportunity to give their opinions on a major awards list, all the teens who were a part of the session also received a badge to visit the exhibit hall and sat down for a pizza lunch with an amazing group of eight young adult authors.

Back to 8 a.m.—I climbed into the driver’s seat and my four girls settled on the brown bus benches that we all remember from field trips.  Before I could even start the engine, the conversation about books started. It didn’t stop for the entire 45 minute drive to DC, and I couldn’t stop smiling.  It was a librarian’s dream—four teens energetically and passionately talking about the books they love (or don’t). Four teens talking about the importance of representation in books—race, sexuality, gender, ability, etc… Four teens talking about which characters developed and which didn’t; about endings they loved or hated; about the pacing of plot.

My heart grew two sizes.
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The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

In the novel The Most Dangerouse Place on Earth one of the female characters’ thinks to herself, “As if middle school were a safe haven…when in fact it was the most dangerous place on Earth.” Of course that sounds like teenage hyperbole, however I would say that if you think about it it’s more reality for many teens than one might want to admit. While teenage lives may have some of the outlines of a nightmare, there are many assets for library staff and community members to leverage in order to support the successful growth and development of all teens.

When I think of the assets that library staff can promote for and with teens I often think of the Santa Ana (CA) Public Library. I was fortunate to visit the main library a couple of years ago, after getting to know the teen librarian, Cheryl Eberly. The library building itself is nothing to “write home about.” The building is a 1960 structure that has quite a bit of wear and tear. However, when I was inside the building I didn’t really notice that. Why? Because from the time I walked in to the time I left (about two hours later) it was clear that this is a community library in which staff members (teens and adults) are embedded in the Santa Ana community and that the work that happens inside, and outside of the building, is completely centered on community needs.
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Learning with YALSA This Summer

drawing of hands raised The teens in your community might be out of school for the summer (or just about to get out of school) however, library staff never stop learning. That’s why YALSA has some great options for you to keep your learning going this summer. Here’s what’s on YALSA’s continuing education calendar for June, July, and August:

New E-Course

Start at the End: Backward Design for Library Programming
7/8/2019 – 8/11/2019

This new online course, taught by Casey Rawson, a Teaching Assistant Professor at UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science, gives participants the chance think about what they would like their library activities for and with teens to achieve. Then with that in mind work backwards to determine what programs they might provide in order to reach that goal/impact. During the five week course participants will learn about the backwards design framework for planning. They will also have the chance to develop learning goals for their activities for and with teens and through those goals better articulate the value of the work that they do. You can learn more and register for this e-course on the YALSA website.
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