As a new librarian at a small, rural school I was thrilled to have the opportunity of utilizing the Dollar General Literacy Grant on behalf of my students. Since our community is without a public library, I used the library funds to create six separate programs to coincide with open library nights at our high school library. From a cooking night to a night on 3-D printers, we tried to appeal to a wide variety of interests. We used grant funds purchase books related to the program’s theme, supplies so students could participate in making and creating, and as a final attempt to get students into the library, free pizza.

Without extensive experience creating reading programs for teens, this program seemed fairly well planned. I thought I hit several of the right notes with a variety of themes, active participation for the students, and the time honored free pizza. I had planned to have a meeting with interested students and get them involved in the planning, but the last two months of the school year exploded with award ceremonies, a softball and baseball season suddenly full of double and even triple headers due to prior inclement weather, regents study groups, and last minute fire and lockdown drills. Suddenly I was without student input and left to my own devices. I decided to simply carry on with the original plan because it was a pretty good plan, right?

It may have been a good plan, but somehow, it simply did not get students through the door. Our attendance was lower than anticipated. At a low point, we had only two students show up for a music night. Since there were so few students, they were able to try out all the instruments they felt like and have a beginners music lesson with a local musician. They loved it and the musician felt like she had connected with them, but I felt badly that other students were disinclined to attend. Since then, attendance has slowly worked its way back up, but overall, attendance is much lower than I had hoped.

While it is difficult to pinpoint the definitive issue, I can’t help feeling that perhaps a lack of student involvement in the initial planning stages was part of the problem. If students had been asked to contribute their ideas, maybe poll their fellow students on what they would like to learn/do, they may have been more invested in getting their friends to the open library nights.

The student turnout has not been everything I hoped it would be, but I feel the grant has still been a great, enriching experience for the attendees and an incredible learning experience for me. Part of the intent of this program was to explore the potential for opening the library up over subsequent summers. I hoped to have data to prove to the School Board the worthwhileness of paying a staff member to open the library throughout the summer. I am not sure I have thoroughly accomplished that, but I, along with the staff who have volunteered their time this summer with me, are all energized with ideas for next summer–what we could do differently, how we could get students more involved, etc. Likely we will be once again volunteering our time, but we can all see the benefit of having our library available to students during the summer and the enthusiasm of the students who have been involved is encouraging and inspiring.

Thanks so much to YALSA and Dollar General for their generosity in providing these funds for our use!

Bethaney Cotten is a Library Media Specialist in the St. Regis Falls Central School District.

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