26 Forward-Thinking Programs for Back to School

From a picture-book presidential election to a course in cleaning up digital footprints, designer garment upcycling, and TOEFL test prep, these initiatives pack a powerful impact.
Illustration by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Illustration by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Looking for last-minute ideas for fall programming? Stop here for inspiration. From a picture-book presidential election to a course in cleaning up students’ digital footprints, designer garment upcycling, and TOEFL test prep, these bold, imaginative initiatives pack a powerful impact.

1608_SchlsIn_1_TravisGet them reading

1. Travis Jonker, media specialist at Dorr (MI) Elementary School and co-creator of The Yarn podcast, plans to get his students reading and voting during the presidential election cycle. But “our election will be between book characters,” he says. “One is Squid from Aaron Reynolds Sara Varon’s President Squid [Chronicle, 2016], and the other is Duck from Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin’s Duck for President [S. & S., 2004]. We’ll read the books, discuss the elections with the students, and then have them vote for their favorite character.”

2. Jonker is also planning a tie-in activity with his state’s annual children’s book prize, the Great Lakes Great Books Award from the Michigan Reading Association. “We will be introducing the nominees in the fall, reading them, and having a student vote [for the winner],” he says.

Photo courtesy of Andy Plemmons

Julee Murphy's early childhood classroom in Corpus Christi, TX, joined a Google Hangout with Plemmons and other librarians during International Picture Book Month.  Photo courtesy of Andy Plemmons

3. Andy Plemmons is looking forward to another Picture Book Smackdown with his young students. First, “[they] set goals for how many picture books they will read throughout the month of November,” says Plemmons, school library media specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary School in Athens, GA, a 2014 SLJ School Librarian of the Year finalist. During the smackdown, Plemmons uses Google Hangouts to connect multiple schools from around the country with two authors. “For an hour we rotate from school to school, and students take turns stepping up to the camera to share a favorite picture book in under one minute” [above], he says. “The authors do too. We’re all celebrating a love of reading pictures and words.”

4. With nearly $400,000 from a Knight Foundation Library Challenge Grant, Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) will expand Telestory, a video initiative allowing incarcerated parents to connect with their kids, says Rachel Payne, coordinator of early childhood services. Twelve more branches will host the visits, designed to foster stronger bonds between parents and children by reading and engaging in early literacy practices together; teens in correctional facilities can also connect with parents.

5. Fifty-five BPL branches will offer Saturday storytimes this fall to accommodate working parents’ schedules.

6. Working with a special education teacher at her school, Sara Frey, library media specialist and technology integration coach at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School in Plymouth Meeting, PA, will establish a book club for students with intellectual disabilities, thanks to an Inspire Grant from the American Association of School Libraries. Modeled after the Next Chapter Book Club, her after-school group will “engage with the text together, whether it’s reading aloud or listening,” says Frey. The club will take field trips to related local organizations, including a children’s hospital while they are reading the first book, R.J. Palacio’s Wonder (Knopf, 2012).

7. To help grow parental support for her students’ independent reading, Stacy Dillon, lower school librarian at the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School (LREI) in New York City, will expand her Well Read book club from one evening to two. “This is a night where four of our librarians lead book clubs featuring YA and children’s titles, but have adults as the readers,” says Dillon. The events “allow parents and caregivers to read what their children read and to expand their knowledge of genres and formats.”

8. Maggie Knapp, middle school/upper school head librarian at the Trinity Valley School in Forth Worth, TX, also has plans to boost parent engagement. Last year, she piloted an early morning program in the library when parents could “drop off their kids, have coffee and donuts,” and talk about books and reading. More than 50 participated, and she hopes for more this fall. Knapp makes the event accessible to all parents by including a link to her slide presentation from the gathering in the school’s e-newsletter.

New takes on tech

9. In her maker space, Frey will continue her Open Minds program, a team-based competition that she beta tested in the spring. Open Minds connects kids with mentors, either teachers at the school or students from nearby La Salle University. “They will research a [STEAM-centered] problem, come up with a viable solution, and plot out how they’d pitch that solution,” Frey says. The teams will have two weeks to meet with mentors at the maker space and experiment. At a dinner event, the teams will deliver their pitches to school and community members.

10. IdaMae Craddock, librarian and media specialist at Burley Middle School in Charlottesville, VA, wants to free students from expectations that can come with prescriptive craft or tech programs. She’s tweaking her Maker Ed kits accordingly. Each kit includes materials for making, a print resource to build ideas, and tips on how to publish or share the final product. “With our Snap Circuit kit, I take the pieces out of their original box so you have all the things you need—but not in a way that tells you exactly what you should make,” Craddock says. Another kit includes duct tape, books with projects ideas, and instructions on posting photos to Pinterest. The point isn’t so much completion—it’s about playing, experimenting, and making, she says.

Photo ourtesy of AimieeMeuchel

The Tualatin (OR) Public Library  Photo courtesy of Aimiee Meuchel

11. At the invitation of a school principal, Aimee Meuchel, teen librarian at Tualatin (OR) Public Library, will lead a new series of afterschool programs at a nearby middle school. “Twice a week I’ll be going over and teaching or demonstrating maker-type activities such as circuits, building with K’Nex, Sphero robots, and more,” she says. “There will be a lot of playing!”

12. In BPL’s new Library Lab afterschool program, some 50 branches will offer children ages 6–10 the chance to explore STEM concepts with free, hands-on activities, says Payne. Trained librarians will explore topics including light, shadow and sound; aerodynamics; engineering and electricity; and coding (powered by Google’s CS First program); as well as circuitry, shadow puppetry, magnus gliders, marble roller coasters, and simple machines. The initiative is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York with educational support from the New York Hall of Science.

13. This summer, Donna Sullivan Macdonald, library media and instructional technology specialist at Orchard School in South Burlington, VT, is exploring the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) curriculum, developed by the Museum of Science in Boston, and LEGO Education’s STEM products. She’s “looking forward to an interesting school year with a science twist,” says Macdonald. In her K–5 library, “My district has a focus on Next Generation Science Standards. I’ll be collaborating with teachers for lots of hands-on activities,” most in the library maker space. For a reading connection, she recommends Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley’s Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K–2 (Stenhouse, 2014).

Passive & participatory programming

Photo courtesy of Glen Ellyn Public Library

The Middle tween space at the Glen Ellyn (IL) Public Library Photo courtesy of Glen Ellyn Public Library

14. A recent remodel at the Glen Ellyn (IL) Public Library yielded the creation of The Middle (above), a space and collection for tweens. This fall, Christina Keasler, the middle school librarian there, will host a mix of registration-required programming and some “boredom buster” passive programming, in which students can drop in without registering, for “crafternoons” and more. Programs can be “collaborative, competitive, or just for fun,” Keasler says. Tweens will be dropping in to create “frankentoys” by dissembling and reassembling toy parts—or participate in a Sriracha test kitchen, pairing the popular condiment with a variety of foods, among other activities.

15. Knapp also sees the value of passive programming for her stressed teen students. “Some just want to dial down,” she said. “They’re looking for things that aren’t technology-based.” Knapp will offer coloring pages, puzzles, and other low-maintenance, low-cost activities as opportunities for students to chill and socialize. “I worry about our kids having the ability to still have face-to-face interactions,” she says. “This is my way to say, ‘Let’s not lose the art of conversation’ and appreciate the value of just being together.”

16. Keasler taps into her young patrons’ passions and skills with a program called Middle School Experts. Students apply online, describing a topic or skill they’d like to share, along with a program description. Experts can choose to teach grades three to five; six to eight; adults; or to an all-ages group. The first two Experts’ subjects were drones and eating a gluten-free diet.

Courtesy of LREI school library

Jennifer Hubert Swan (center) and students at the LREI school library in New York City. Courtesy of LREI school library

17. Inspired by the 2015 School Library Journal article “How To Run a Student Volunteer Program that Students Love.” Jennifer Hubert Swan (above center), middle school librarian and director of library services at LREI, ran a Library Job Corps program pilot with her sixth graders last year and will expand it this fall. “I had a great group of students who love putting on book covers, printing spine labels, and stamping the school’s address on the title page,” plus shelving and checking in books, she says. “To them, the barcode scanner is like a magic wand!”

18. Taking a freecycling approach to school supplies, Katie Darty and her colleagues “put out a library cart at the end of the year for students to donate school supplies they no longer want,” says Darty, a librarian at North Buncombe High School in Weaverville, NC. “When the new year starts, we roll the cart into the hall and let students take whatever they need.”

19. When the new fiber arts lab opens at the Chattanooga (TN) Public Library in mid-September, Megan Emery, the library’s experience designer and coordinator, will lead an all-ages sewing class that will upcycle 100 Eileen Fisher garments donated by Green Eileen, company’s clothing recycling initiative. Local artists will choose up to five pieces to reimagine, which the library will display; the sewing students will use others, and Eileen Fisher will share photos “as examples of the continued life of their garments,” Emery says. Participants under eight must have an adult helper.

ELL environments

20. Frey plans to colead general study groups for ELL students and assist those who are preparing for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam. “We’ll get them registered for the exam, help with practice materials, and work on test-taking strategies,” says Frey. “These students on the whole haven’t been exposed to the ACT/SAT process,” and this work is a way to help bridge the test-prep gap.

21. In a grant-funded, civics-themed project with an ELL teacher at her school, Frey will explore the 2016 election alongside the history of Philadelphia. The project will include discussions on topics such as citizen rights, the history of the city, and aspects of the election, supplemented by bilingual texts and including a field trip to Independence Hall. “We want to expose these students to more things in their community,” Frey says. “With our ELL population, we see that many don’t have the chance to get outside their neighborhood.”

22. “I am a big supporter of keeping and developing native language abilities,” says Alla Umanskaya, librarian at Brooklyn’s PS/IS 30 Mary White Ovington in Brooklyn, NY. To support multilingual literacy, Umanskya will continue her reading buddies program, with students reading together in English and their families’ native languages. When middle schoolers read to elementary ages, the older students benefit in particular, as they aren’t necessarily fluent in reading in their families’ first language, she says, and parents appreciate it as well.


Multnomah County (OR) Library's newsletters for teachers Images courtesy of
Jacqui Partch

Research support

23. Curriculum support is at the heart of Multnomah County (OR) Library’s School Corps department, which helps K–12 students improve their reading and master public library resources. “One thing we experimented with last year and will be expanding this year is a newsletter for educators,” says Jacqui Partch, the library’s lead School Corps librarian. The quarterly newsletter was “very general by necessity,” as it went to K–12 teachers. Based on feedback, it will be fine-tuned to target three age groups: kindergarten to third grade, fourth to eighth grades, and high school. Teachers will receive curriculum-themed book recommendations and public library program information.

Photo by KristinBeadle

Jackie Partch (center) with young patrons at Multnomah County Library. Photo by Kristin Beadle

24. In addition, “We’ve been asked a lot of about Internet privacy/digital citizenship by our middle and high school educators,” Partch says. A new program for middle and high schoolers, “Take Control of your Digital Footprint,” will include topics of digital citizenship and cyberbullying, as well as device encryption, password safety, and problematic apps.

25. Syntychia Kendrick-Samuel, a 2016 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and head of young adult services at the Uniondale (NY) Public Library, will be offering school resource programs in September. In the past, she has visited schools to share database information; the new program invites students to the public library. “The teens will each have a laptop available for them to use while I discuss the various resources,” she explains. Kendrick-Samuel will highlight her library’s subscription to Tutor.com, as well as the EBSCO product Explora.

26. This fall, Craddock will coteach classes aiming to get potential first-generation college students ready for further education. The students “get the formal research training they often miss, because their parents don’t have that skill set,” she says. To support those skills, Craddock will “combine research and making in a curricular way.” Her I-Make program incorporates writing and research skills via STEAM-based projects; for example, programming a car to run on Arduino circuits or designing an air hockey table. “As they fail and find new or more reliable sources...they’ll learn about search terms, citations—all those great library skills.”

Witteveen-April_Contrib_WebApril Witteveen is a community librarian with the Deschutes Public Library system in central Oregon.

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TutorComp, based out of Grayslake, IL is one of world’s leading affordable e-learning solutions provider. We provide high quality personalized online tutoring (1-on-1) to grade 3-12 students.We partner with schools for providing after-school hours remedial classes. The students can take classes online, 24x7, at the comfort of their home.

Posted : Apr 19, 2017 11:33

Sarah Bayliss

Hi Julee, we're sorry about this error and have corrected the caption. Thanks for bring it it our attention!

Posted : Aug 17, 2016 08:36

Julee Murphy

Great article! By the way, the photo under item #2 is my library- Early Childhood Development Center in Corpus Christi, Texas. I collaborated with Andy Plemmons and other fantastic librarians across the USA in a Google Hang Out for International Picture Book Month. The image shown is the video cover image.

Posted : Aug 03, 2016 04:39



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