This is adapted from a Future Ready with the Library Community of Practice reflection by Allison Shimek, Fayette Public Library in La Grange, TX. Allison is a member of the second cohort of the YALSA Future Ready with the Library project. Future Ready with the Library provides support for small, rural, and tribal library staff to build college and career readiness services for middle school youth. Read more about Future Ready with the Library and apply for cohort 3.

image of teens reading snowball ideasLike everyone in the Future Ready with the Library cohort, over the past several months I have been busy with meetings and gathering information. Through this work I learned a tremendous amount about my community. So far I met with the middle school principal, middle school librarian, school district assistant superintendent, members of the community theater, parents, a local camp, teens, and the local Rotary Club. It seems that the majority of the community agrees that middle schoolers need social skills that will help them prepare for the workforce. At the same time, those I talk with note that there is little for middle school youth to do in the town during out of school time. Except for band and sports, all after school activities end at 6th grade. There is nowhere for teens to go and hang out or a place that they can feel is just for them. The entire community and the teens recognize this as a huge topic of concern. As a part of the Future Ready with the Library work, I plan to continue to meet with more community groups and businesses in the local area to learn how to and plan for ways to better support teens.

One of the activities the Future Ready with the Library project team suggested cohort members try out with youth and/or adults is what we call the “snowball activity.” This activity gives participants a chance to exchange ideas about a topic in an informal fashion. Participants are given a question to answer. Each person crumples up the piece of paper with their question, gets into a circle with everyone else, and throws the paper into the middle. Participants then select one of the papers, read it aloud, and the group discusses the various responses to the question.

photo of teens in snowball circleI did the snowball activity with two groups. I went to the Community Theatre’s rehearsal for The Secret Garden and the snowball was a part of their warm up. We had a big open space so I decided to let the kids have a snowball fight for several seconds. This may have been their favorite part. This group ranged in ages from 12-18. I asked the youth to answer the question, “What do you enjoy doing outside of school?” Most of the responses focused on sports with one person mentioning volunteering. I did get a few that wrote, “I don’t know” and “I like to stare at walls” We chatted about what skills were needed to participate in the activities mentioned and then talked a little about potential careers related to their interests. The youth seemed to understand that what they liked to do required many different skills but seemed to have a hard time transferring this information to careers or how it could help them in the future. We wrapped up and I gave them all bookmarks. My new pineapple scented bookmarks were a big hit. In future activities, it may help to connect their interests to real life career examples in the community. This may help teens to visualize what their interests and skills might look like in potential careers. Providing recognizable, local career examples may also help to connect interested teens to potential mentors.

The second group was a service club of 8th graders. I met them during lunch at the middle school. We were not able to have a snowball fight because the classroom was tight and they were eating pizza. However, I did facilitate a conversation, related to the snowball question, with the group.This group provided many thoughts about what they were passionate about and how their interests related to their future. I still got a few, “I like to eat” but overall they were really into it. We chatted about how they may use skills they are developing in the future. They also agreed that activities they like to do are helping them think about related careers. Again, the pineapple bookmarks were a hit.

In just a couple of months through the work I am doing as a part of the Future Ready with the Library project, I have learned quite a bit about my community and the teens who live here. The meetings I’ve had with community members have made me recognize all of the opportunities I have been missing by not meeting with certain people in the past and by not being open to the variety of groups available for me to talk with. During my second meeting with the middle school/high school librarian I was invited to join the Book Club on a field trip to the new Austin Central Library. The library was amazing but it was really great to be with a group of teens outside of the community in which they live and learning from them during the field trip.

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