Thinking outside the box: Flipping the high school Library

Finals Night5 1_15Use of the term “21st century” has become pervasive in today’s society.  Whether describing technologies, economies or social media, the term is inescapable. When that particular phrase is used to describe school libraries, most discussions center on the newest machines we provide rather than the people who need to use our facilities. As I prepare to enter my eighth year as a high school librarian I am certain of one particular reality, the people who need to use the Larrabee Library at Tewksbury Memorial High School are in fact, 21st century teenagers.

In order to truly be effective educators, our students ought to be the starting point for any service the library offers.  Years of observation and interaction with the “next” generation have led me to the following conclusion: 21st century American teens have been handed a difficult world. Within that world they face a series of challenges:  financial, academic, social, emotional and highly under-reported, physical.  Most teens deal with at least one of these issues.  Many experience some combination of the five.  Finals Night Parsons_Harvard 1_15

So how can librarians position themselves to support these students as they attempt to acquire knowledge while dealing with those potentially consuming issues?  My answer to that question is basic: “Let’s listen to our students.”  Students do communicate what they need; we must develop the ability to hear them.  By listening to our students and with strong backing from administration and faculty, one librarian’s idea to offer academic support became a reality at TMHS.

Educators have the opportunity to embrace the “Land of the Great What If?” Is it time to think outside the box? Is it time to flip the high school library into the 21st century?  What if …we open the Larrabee Library at 6pm during finals week, and offer our students an academic setting that fits into their complicated lives? The mission of our high school library has always been:  to support teaching and learning.  By paying attention to our students and adhering to that mission, FINALS STUDY NIGHT at TMHS came to life.

Beyond some serious organizational planning, the successful formula included:

        • 80 high school students
        • 32 college student tutors
        • An area for quiet study
        • An area for small group study
        • An area for interactive student mentoring
        • Review sheets and textbooks provided by faculty
        • A support team of current library interns
        • Cocoa and cookies provided

The opportunity to study quietly and to study with friends was well received, but by far the most powerful aspect of the evening was watching TMHS alums share their collegiate expertise with our current students.  Support was available in   Algebra, American History, Anatomy, AP Calculus, American Literature, AP Economics and many other subject areas.

Finals NightD_15Colleges represented included: Lesley University, UMass Lowell, Worcester State, Harvard University, Endicott College, UMass Amherst, UCONN, Bridgewater State, Rensselaer Polytechnic, Worcester Polytechnic, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Salem State, Suffolk University, Merrimack College, College of the Holy Cross, Framingham State, Anna Maria College, UMass Dartmouth.

The success of this event dictated that we host a Finals Study Night in the spring. Most sincere appreciation goes to all who supported this idea from its inception: Principal Kristen Vogel, Assistant Principals Eileen Osborne and Jason Stamp, the entire TMHS faculty, both the custodial and cafeteria staff. This was unmistakably the most collaborative experience of my professional career.

Mary Eldringhoff, M.Ed., M.S., is the librarian at the Larrabee Library at Tewksbury Memorial High School



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