Saturday, August 27, 2016

Librarians Can Support the College Admissions Process

SLJ Teen Live August 10, 2016

Interface to navigate the online conference

On August 10th, I spoke on a panel during the annual SLJ Teen Live online conference sponsored by School Library Journal. In the past, the focus of this one day conference was on young adult literature, books and authors, but this year a number of sessions were included dealing with teen programming in school and public libraries. The session in which I participated was called College and Career for the Under-served

I spoke to the 250 attendees over the phone and manipulated my slides on the computer
The college application process has been an area that is near and dear to me. I have been developing quality resources for my seniors for many years. I believe that as librarian I can help support the counseling department at my school in a big way. My school is small with 600 students, and the class of 2017 has only 30 students. Our counselor must assist students with the college process, but she also has to service all the other students in the building, too. For the first time our school will have a part time counselor to work with the middle school students, but the full time counselor will nonetheless still have a full plate. 

Class of 2016 with principal Zapico and assistant principal Higgins
Patrick Taylor Academy is a college prep public school, and we pride ourselves on the fact that 100% of our graduates since the first graduating class in 2009 have entered a four year college or university after graduating. Many of these students are the first in their family to go to college. Also, many of these students cannot attend college unless they get hefty scholarships. 

Where do I come in? First, I can provide print material. There are many wonderful books out there with info about colleges, scholarships, and how to write great essays. I have some of those books in my library. My counselor has purchased new versions of those books for the library. However, there is a huge problem with these books. I can't get many of the students to check them out. Students don't want these print resources, so I have created electronic tools as a substitute for these print sources. The wonderful thing about these electronic sources is that they never go out of date like the books. 

Webpage on the library website

The library has a very robust website which I created in 2009. I am not sure when I added the section on Getting Ready for College, but it was a number of years ago. I have divided this page into several sections including: Louisiana specific sites, searching for the right college, college rankings, finding the best college fit for you, test prep, scholarship opportunities, college essays, and blogs about the college search process. The informational links that I list on this page are updated by the sponsoring organizations. This means students will always be getting information that is current. Sometimes, these websites will become inactive, and I do have to check periodically and delete those links. When I come across a new useful site from my counselor or on Twitter or Facebook, then I can add to the list. This page is a whole lot easier and cheaper to edit than books on the library shelves, and  I can share these resources with everyone in the senior class at the same time. 

Test Prep Livebinder
One tool that I use constantly when I create lessons for my students is Livebinders. I have also used this tool to create a resource to help students as they prepare for the ACT, SAT and AP exams. All the links that I share with my students are free. I know that there are some great resources out there for test prep that cost money, but those can be a hardship for my students. The wonderful thing about Livebinders is the fact that you can copy my binder with test prep here, and then edit it to fit the needs of the teens with whom you work. I share this binder with the students taking ACT prep and ask the counselor to share with our students also. 

Scholarship opportunities Livebinder

The other Livebinder that I have created is one with scholarship opportunities. At the outset, I would use the counselor's weekly newsletter to find scholarships to add to the binder. Eventually, the counselor would just CC me on any emails that she sent to the students about scholarships. I have divided this binder into several sections, but the main sections that students will find helpful are the ones for the national and local scholarships. When I first created this binder, I tried to add the deadlines to each scholarship. This turned out to be a major undertaking because I had to make those edits on every single scholarship each year. I finally decided to give an approximation of the deadlines because I found out that most scholarships close around the same time each year. So I can list that a scholarship deadline will be mid-March or early January and remind readers to check the website for the exact date. Scholarships come and go, and I do need to check this resource periodically to make sure all links are still good. This is a great resource to share with parents. As with the test prep binder, feel free to copy this one and edit to the needs for your library. 

Paris won a Gates Millennium Scholarship in 2014 and attends UNC at Chapel Hill
The other job about the college application process that I take very seriously is assistance with writing essays. During my tenure at Patrick Taylor, I have helped three students receive a Gates Millennium Scholarship. I take great pride in this because of the competitive nature of those grants. Sometimes there is time for me to work one on one with students writing their college or scholarship essays. When there is a time crunch for either me or the student, we have used Google docs to make the editing process work. I love using Google Docs that way because I can make comments, but I can also make suggested edits. Students certainly don't have to follow my suggestions, but if they choose to do so, they can. I find my students have a hard time writing about themselves. Sometimes they get too pompous and explain how they are going to save the world, sometimes they don't tell the story that explains how much they have accomplished. I can help them with this, and I am happy to do it. Over the last couple of years, the counselor has required students to get an adult reader on campus to review their essays before submission. I think this is a great idea. 

Last but not least, I can serve as a sounding board for the students. I am able to listen as they throw out their options and what they are thinking are the best choices for them. I can offer them encouragement and maybe give them some ideas that they had not yet thought about. 

Mark on the left is attending RIT 
A quick story to end this post: A member of the class of 2016 applied to a number of colleges because the counselor requires the students to apply out of state even for those reluctant to leave home. Mark was all set to attend the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a two and a half drive from his home. He visited campus bought his sweatshirt and wore it to school with pride. He was going to receive money from TOPS (Louisiana scholarship program) that would pay most of his costs for school. Then he receives and email from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. He had gotten in and was given a huge scholarship. He crunched the numbers and discovered that it was $9000 cheaper to attend RIT than ULL. Now the Louisiana legislature is set to cut TOPS funding which means he would have been responsible for even more of the cost if he had attended ULL. Mark and I talked a lot about the college process over the last year, and I hope that I had in a small way helped to get him out of state for school. 

On Friday, the counselor asked if I would talk to the class of 2017 during the Thursday enrichment hour on September 8th. She wants to attend a workshop that day. I am thrilled about the chance to talk to the seniors as a whole about all the resources that I have curated just for them. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

First Full Week of School, Done

PFTSTA Library is often filled with readers at lunch
It never ceases to amaze me. One minute I am enjoying summer break, and the next thing you know I am immersed in a new school year. I realize now that there was more that I could have done over the summer to prepare for the new year. I had only a handful of books ready to order, so I have been frantically preparing a book order. As I began orientation, I noticed updates that needed to happen on the library website. Most of those are now complete, but I haven't visited every page and know that there are more to do. Students are clamoring to know when the clubs that I sponsor will begin. I made signs on Friday advertising the high school book group and the new this year 8th grade book group. In the past, the 8th grade was with the middle school students, and then last year, I added them to the high school group. We made changes to the school lunch schedule this year, so 8th grade will have their very own group. On Monday, I met with the high school students.I have a large number of freshman in the group, and I am hoping some of the upper class-men will rejoin. I have been trying to poll the returning 7th graders to see who wants to remain in the middle school group. The group is capped at 30, and I have to see how many spots we have for the new 6th graders. There are all the calendar dates that need to be added to the library Google calendar. I am still negotiating a couple of author skype dates that I am trying to schedule. Actually, it is good that I didn't firm up those dates before school started because of the changes in our daily schedule that I didn't know about.

Bookmarked for 2016-17
The 6th and 7th graders flock to the library before school and during lunch. At lunch, our makerspace materials are out for use. Students asked for them before school, but I don't think that 20 minutes is enough time to begin any projects and get the materials put away before 1st period. Last year, the library got funding from a grant for the school to build a mini-makerspace. I have more money to spend for this year. The students love the two Sphero robots, and I am going to add the new SPRK+ from Sphero and a couple of Ozobots. The Little Bits are also highly popular. I am going to see about adding more kits to what we already have. One of the gadgets that has been used by all ages from 6th to 12th grade is our 3D pen. We purchased three of them. Unfortunately, two of the pens got clogged and are impossible for me to fix. I know that the kids loved using them, but they are just too fragile. For the price, it is just not feasible for me to keep replacing them.

6th grader makes her first creation with a 3D pen
Orientation for 6th and 7th students is complete as well as for new 8th and 9th graders. We only have eight new 10th and 11th graders, and two of those are students who left and are returning to our school. Soon I will be starting lessons on our new tool for creating citations, Noodle Tools. I haven't spent much time learning the ins and outs of Noodle Tools, so I was thrilled when I got notice of the webinars that they will offer. I will attend one on Friday for newbies. I hope to be more confident after the webinar, and I can begin creating the instructional videos explaining how to use the tool.

Building with the Legos
For some reason, it seems that a big part of my job is putting out fires. Actually, I love problem solving, but when there is a class in the library, or several kids are asking for help at one time, or the phone starts to ring it can be hard to get any one task completed. I don't think that I would have it any other way.

Orientation for 7th graders

Saturday, August 13, 2016

To Open or Not to Open the Library, the First Day of School

Engrossed in a good book

School opened for students on August 11th, so I have now logged in two school days of the new year. On the first day, I began the day helping 6th graders all who are new to our school find their classrooms. At the change of each period, I was  in the hall helping to guide the students to where they should be. The district asked schools to post on social media using the hashtag #JPPSS1stday. I ran around the building taking a few pictures to post on Facebook and Twitter. Then when I had a few minutes, I worked on the library catalog and getting the library ready to open. Also, seniors, who are taking online classes, were scheduled in the library. Oh, I am the school's laminator queen, and I had piles of posters and papers to laminate for the new year. 

First book check out for 2016-17 school year
He is gearing up for the Fantastic Beasts movie by reading the book first
The district guidelines allow librarians to wait two weeks before opening the library to classes, though administration asks that librarians check out books as needed during that period. I like to have a soft opening the first few days letting in the regulars, and then try to schedule orientation for 6th and 7th graders as soon as I can. This year, it was raining during lunch the first two days of school. I got a call from the principal on the first day to explain that the students could not go outside and needed to have somewhere to go when they finished their lunch. She asked if I would open the library for all lunches. That meant I would have students walk in who have not gone through orientation and do not know my expectations when they visit the library. 

I love seeing students reading together
Let me say this, I am thrilled to be back at school. I really love the kids and love having them in the library. BUT, it has not been a great opening. My desktop computer is not working. This is the computer hooked up to the scanner for me to check in and check out books. Though I can scan books by checking them out on one of the iPads, the wireless didn't seem to be working. So that was not an option.  I can also use my laptop, but if I have to type in the barcode numbers, it is too easy to make a mistake. We added 100 students to last year's enrollment. There really were not quite enough tables and chairs in the building for the classrooms last year, but we managed. As teachers received their class rosters this year, they were clamoring for more tables and chairs for their classrooms. That left the library with two tables and about 15 chairs. The district claims that they have purchased enough tables and chairs for the school when the building opened three years ago. That just isn't true. How am I going to teach classes in the library without furniture? There is not enough seating for the students when they visit at lunch. With technology not working correctly and no furniture, I am not a happy librarian. On top of that, the school server wasn't working on Friday. When I logged off my laptop at the end of the day. I thought that I would be able to open my orientation powerpoint at home. I just tried, and I can't get to any of my documents. My back up external hard drives won't open the document either. 

Do I sound like I am whining? I hope not. 

Using good time management and getting homework done during lunch

Back to my original focus of this post--when should the library open for the school year. I just can't see waiting two weeks before having students visit. The students are already in Destiny, so the library management program is really ready for check outs when school opens except for setting the calendar, which I fixed for the new year on Friday. The sooner that I hold orientation means the students are prepared for using the library. Teachers aren't ready for library collaboration during the first few weeks of school which gives me a bit of time to get some of the library management tasks completed. The teachers are waiting for the laptops to be given out to the students before working with me because so much of what I do with the students involves technology. 

Another student who found a good read on the first day of school 

Anyway, despite all my difficulties, the library did open the first day. I have orientation scheduled to begin next week and a visit for pre-testing with senior project students. The library is part of the school's academic program, and if the teachers have started teaching then I need to make the library and its resources available for anyone who needs them. I may grump, but the library doors are always open. 

These 7th graders were happy to get the new Sphero working for our makerspace

All the opening issues aside, I am looking forward to a good year. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Gearing up for my 36th Year of Teaching, 26th in a Library

There are only a few hours left of summer break for 2016. I start back to work on Monday, and our students will start on Thursday. Am I ready to go back? Yes and no. This has been a wonderful summer of rest and relaxation. I did not attend any conferences this summer nor did I spend hours making preparations for the new year. However, when I do reflect on the summer, I realize that my mind was never very far from the library. 

I read. I am always reading something and though I don't like reading two print books at one time, I usually have one print book going and one audio book. I review books for both School Library Journal and School Library Connection. This means that I don't always get to choose what I read, but I didn't review much this summer, though I have 5 books by my bed to review right now. I am on the committee for the state library that selects the books for Louisiana Teen Readers' Choice (LTRC). At the beginning of the summer, we narrowed our list down to 40 books for the 2018 program. I have been trying to read from that list before our next meeting in a week. Unfortunately, I can't share those titles with you because they are still on the consideration list for LTRC. Of course, I had to read the new Harry Potter as soon as it came out, and you can read my review here. 

Register here for this event
At the end of the school year, I was asked to be on a panel for the SLJ Teen Live conference. It is next week on August 10th. I am speaking at 1PM CDT on the College and Career panel. I was thrilled to be asked. When I agreed to speak, I knew my focus, but I did not know what I wanted on my slides. That took quite a bit of preparation which of course was done over summer break. I am eager to share what I do in my library for the seniors.   

This is how I am listed on the speaker page for SLJ Teen Live

I have been watching how Facebook (FB) has been evolving as a very useful professional tool. All summer long, I have been reading my feed and learning new things to use in my library. I follow several authors, probably should do more and many publishers. I am also a member of several librarian groups where I have posted questions and responded to others' questions that have given me some great ideas for my library. Some of the groups I like include ALA Think Tank, The School Librarians Workshop, and Fellowship of High School Librarians. We also have a closed group for the librarians in my school district so that we have a place to vent but also share information. There are also communities on FB centered around educational technology. I am part of a Breakout EDU group that is a fabulous place to get more information about this program. So much sharing going on with this Facebook page to help teachers, it is amazing. I just joined a FB page for users of Symbaloo. I use Symbaloo with my teachers and students and really can't live without it anymore. I am so glad that the FB page was created because I know that I have more to learn about using this tool with students. 

I also gave myself time to re-energize. I took two trips, visited with many friends, purged stuff from the back of my closets, and walked everyday. I think having time away from school and work is important. During the school year, it is hard for me to unplug. I made myself do it this summer, and I am glad that I did. I am ready to go back, and I can't wait to hear what my students have to say about the book that Rowling did not write.

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