Community engagement and partnerships have always been essential to making library programming successful, but this year, the Dollar General/YALSA Summer Learning Grant provided our library with a unique opportunity to capitalize on an extraordinary new partnership with our local school system. We partnered with a local system and a local bank to make ChibiCon, a mini-con sponsored by our Teen Advisory Board, even better than ever–while opening new doors for even greater partnerships.
Additionally, I was already involved in the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant at Bourbon County Middle School (BCMS), where I led a book club every Tuesday afternoon. If you’re unfamiliar, 21st Century federal grants are provided to schools to create a program that provides homework help, educational opportunities, and cultural enrichment to local children. With BCMS, the grant manifests as an afterschool program and a two-week-long summer camp. The kids read 3-4 books per year and enjoyed STEM and art activities.
However, the Summer Learning Grant provided us with an opportunity to take our partnership to another level by bringing a published, best-selling author (Gwenda Bond) to our rural Kentucky community and deeply involving the BCMS program. This energized all of the adults involved in the program and helped the students improve their critical thinking skills, literacy skills, and verbal communication skills as they prepared to speak with Gwenda Bond about her work. All the teens enrolled in the 21st Century Camp read Bond’s new book, the Stranger Things prequel Dangerous Minds.
The teens from the summer camp made up nearly a third of the attendance at ChibiCon. The event was a game-changer for our relationship with that school program. Thanks to a generous sponsorship from a local bank, we were able to give every person who attended ChibiCon a signed copy of one of Gwenda Bond’s books. The teachers were delighted by this, as were the students, several of whom joined our Anime Club and joined our library’s fandom community. Since all the BCMS students had read Dangerous Minds, they elevated the discussion during Gwenda Bond’s author talk, contributing thoughtful questions and insightful commentary. This partnership with the school’s afterschool program made ChibiCon far greater than it would have been without their help.
After ChibiCon, we had an even better relationship with BCMS. Since the event, we’ve been invited to join education committees and speak at school events, and we are collaborating further with the 21st Century program to co-sponsor community service events and expanded book clubs. ChibiCon proved that the school and library could collaborate on large events to the benefit of the students, building a foundation of trust that allows us more outreach opportunities–and a stronger presence in our local schools–than ever before. None of this would have been possible without the collaborations cultivated between teachers, school administrators, and library staff. School partnerships can take patience and hard work but are worth every student.
Beth Dunston is the Teen Services Librarian at Paris-Bourbon County Library.