When I read Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds for the first time last year, I was completely overwhelmed–this story was about my students! So many of them have lost family and friends due to gun violence, and many of them have been faced with similar emotional tragedies in their lives. So I wanted them to see that their feelings and experiences are valid by reading a book written by a man who looks like them and understands them and IS them. But being a Title 1 school means funds are tight, and purchasing class sets of books (especially enough for all classes to read at the same time) is just not in our budget without help. YALSA’s Teen Read Week Grant is that help, and I am incredibly grateful.     

When I saw that the Teen Read Week Grant was open for applications in May, I immediately texted my reading teacher and asked her what she thought about the potential of doing a school-wide read next year with a Jason Reynolds book. She responded with a resounding “YES” and I filled out the application. And then we were selected, and the brainstorming began.  

But how do you plan a reading program for students who are reluctant readers? You make it relevant!

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In the summer of 2017 the Russell Library in Middletown Connecticut, was accepted to participate in the national non-profit Girls Who Code©. Girls Who Code (GWC) partners with other groups, such as libraries, to prepare students for careers in technology fields by introducing computer programming. Starting in September 2017 the Russell Library offered its first GWC course for 20 weeks to a full class of 12 students and a waiting list! The popularity and the community’s positive response suggested that the library should offer the course again.

As a Teen Librarian with a MLS and no official Computer Science background, after the first session I realized I needed reinforcements. The YALSA/ Dollar General Grant fit the perfect spot to be able to offer the program again.  (*Side Note- GWC suggests a CS Degree or CS experience is not necessary; that anyone can run a GWC program with the tools and resources they provide.)

The initial impetus in searching for a grant was our robust teen volunteer program, which offers important job preparation skills to the teens of Middletown. Teens volunteer at the library all year long, with the majority of the hours in the summer. During the brainstorming process, the concept transformed from volunteers assisting in all Youth and Family Learning Summer Learning Programs to two interns for a specific program, GWC.

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The Octavia Fellin Public Library (OFPL) in Gallup, NM used the funds from the Summer Learning Resource Grant to purchase equipment to begin a Youth Media Lab where tweens and teens would have access to film and audio equipment as well as editing software. At the end of May OFPL was approached by the Miss Navajo Council, Inc. seeking help for creating a multimedia project to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of 1868, which allowed the Navajo Tribe to return to their ancestral homelands after being deported to the Bosque Redondo Reservation. We partnered with the organization utilizing our new equipment and community members to create an intergenerational reading of the Treaty accessible to a modern audience.

The resulting project involved 14 community participants (youth and adult) from the community, and historical photographs from the Library of Congress and National Archives. It was shown at 3 commemoration events in Flagstaff, Arizona; Farmington, New Mexico; and Gallup, New Mexico. OFPL also hosted an exhibit detailing the importance of the treaty and its lasting impacts.

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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?

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Marion County, South Carolina is rural and fairly spread out. The Marion County Library System relies heavily on bookmobile services to reach patrons in some of the farthest corners of the county and those who live in underserved areas. However, in recent years, bookmobile usage has begun to decline, especially among young adults and children, and the disparity between branch and bookmobile services has widened.  This inequality of access is most apparent during summer reading.

Patrons who only receive bookmobile service are encouraged to track their reading and receive prizes during the summer months, but they do not receive any programming and our time with them is very limited. During Summer Reading 2018, however, the library system was given an incredible opportunity—turning the bookmobile into a programming-mobile.

With a Summer Learning Grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and YALSA, we were able to turn our bookmobile into a programming machine for the summer months and give some of the bookmobile children the full library experience!

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The $50 for 20 Program made possible by the Dollar General/YALSA Summer Learning Grant had a broader reach than we had ever imagined. The idea was born from a conversation I overheard between a student and the counselor as I was passing in the hallway. The counselor asked, “What do you like to do during the summer?” The student replied, “I just read my mom’s books over and over.” She didn’t have her own books.

Our original was to have high school teachers select twenty of the most at-risk students who needed books at home. We then gave each student $50 each to spend on books and took them on a field trip to the closest bookstore, Books-A-Million, which is 70 miles away.

We started by planning with the 9-12th grade English teachers to help identify the twenty students who would benefit most from having books to read over the summer. Once they were identified, I met with each student individually and explained what we had planned for them and checked to see if they could go with us on the scheduled trip. I met with the principal and received pre approval for our school district to provide the bus driver’s salary, the fuel expense, and the cost of a meal for each student.

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Barrio Writers is a free, week long, college level writing workshop that is specifically geared towards youth in underserved communities. The program came to my attention through the direction of my colleague, Patricia Valdovinos, our former Outreach Services Librarian. She mentioned that she knew of a cool program an author friend of hers had started down in Santa Ana; I looked into it (you can too, https://www.barriowriters.org/), and knew almost immediately that we needed to bring the program to our youth.

2017 Barrio Writers and writing mentors at the Mary L. Stephens Branch in Davis, CA

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I attended a breakout session at MLA about reaching out to incarcerated youth. I was inspired by the session to do just that – reach our incarcerated youth! I connected with our local juvenile detention center, and worked closely with their summer activities director to bring books to three different groups of incarcerated teens every week. This has been a very rewarding experience!

I have one group of female youth and two groups of males. I have enjoyed experiencing the variety of interests ranging from ancient historical fiction to auto mechanics to lots of NBA! They are always excited to see the new selection of books to choose from each week!

The grant dollars allowed me to update their in-house library which was much needed and greatly appreciated! The detention center has asked me to continue my weekly visits throughout the school year which is the best measure of success to my way of thinking!

Kristine Swanson is the outreach librarian for the Public Libraries of Saginaw. She has the privilege of taking the library to underserved groups of people in her community including the juvenile detention center, assisted living communities and memory care units. She feels blessed every day to be doing what she is doing!

For the past two years, Defiance Public Library System (DPLS) has been in the process of revamping the summer reading program by changing the name to Summer BreakOUT and focusing on the whole child. DPLS eliminated the reading requirement and instead made reading one of the possible activities participants could choose to do. Participants could track their activities online or they could choose to play using the paper gameboard.

Eric, Defiance intern

Despite these efforts numbers are dropping. This year our goal was to increase Summer BreakOUT participation through the use of STEAM Camps and a partnership with the summer food program. The STEAM Camps were held over the course of three days for three hours each day. The camps were further divided into three grade level groups: 1-3, 4-6, and 6-8. The DPLS Youth Services Department serves three locations; with minimal staffing and lofty goals we were blessed to have received the YALSA/Dollar General Teen Summer Internship Program grant.

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Summer break can be the hungriest time of the year for kids, but the Olathe Public Library in Olathe, Kansas was fighting hunger with a summer meal program at their two library locations. Youth were fed lunches Monday through Friday at both of library locations. On Fridays the community was also welcomed to participate in a free community lunch.

The Olathe Public Library received a generous grant from Dollar General to hire two interns during the 2018 summer programs. The two teen interns focused on assisting the one staff member run the lunch programs every week day starting from when school got out till the end of summer. Teen intern, Alexis Proctor, also assisted in showing movies and supervising the youth on Monday afternoons during the summer. Alexis completed almost a 100 hours this summer at our Downtown location.

Our second teen intern was Jackie Holst who completed almost 50 hours this summer at our Indian Creek location. She provided some much needed assistance to our seasonal staff member over the lunch programs by providing assistance with room set-up and leading the volunteers.

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