Posted on June 2, 2016 at 6:00 am
Every once in awhile, something comes together in just the right way to bring about a fantastic opportunity. You could say, the odds were ever in your favor!
Last summer, my colleague librarian Sheree West and I were talking about a new collaboration she’d begun with Mica Peak High School (MPHS) in Spokane Valley. While I hadn’t worked with the school previously, her enthusiasm for the students and staff was contagious, and I couldn’t help but wonder about ways we may be able to connect with them further.
In what could only be described as perfect timing, an announcement for a grant from the American Library Association arrived in my email the next day. The Great Stories Club grant would provide books and staff training for a book club specifically designed for alternative learning environments like the one at MPHS. While the program is essentially a book club, the goals reached further than just learning to analyze literature. Instead, the goals were to engage youth with powerful ideas and stories found in books and encourage inclusiveness, self-awareness, and discussion about the books and how they relate to the students’ lives.
Sheree and I worked with MPHS Principal, Kamiel Youseph, throughout the summer to write the grant application. We were pleased to be successfully awarded the grant in September 2015. The theme for this round of Great Stories Club was “Hack the Feed: Media, Resistance, Revolution,” which examined how media can affect the way people think about themselves and others. The books in the series feature young people who observe the underlying power of media and mass entertainment and attempt to use it to better their worlds: Feed by MT Anderson, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.
As Sheree and I moved forward in our planning, we had ideas for how the program might unfold and what conversations the students might come up with. I’m happy to say that our expectations were fairly conservative. Nearly double the expected audience turned out for our first session, and many of them continued for the whole program. Each week the students brought something new and insightful to the discussion: from how allusions to ancient Rome in modern novels can help us think of modern-day media and politics, to how the political and social conditions of the 1950s and 60s made it possible for civil rights’ activists to use nonviolent sit-ins to create change.
Each session also provided an opportunity for us to get to know and work with teens we may not often (if ever) see in the library. A number of students emailed us or flagged us down, in the school hallways or at other events, to continue the discussion we started in Great Stories Club. The high school staff also reported their enthusiasm for the program, noting the positive affect the program has had for many of their students.
Just a few weeks ago, we found out we’ve been awarded a second grant for another round of Great Stories Club. Sheree, Kamiel, and I couldn’t be more pleased. We have been so grateful to the staff and students at MPHS. They are thoughtful and engaged participants. We can’t wait to do the next Great Stories Club, The Art of Change: Creation, Growth, and Transformation, this coming fall.