This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Wendy Steiner
In the spring of 2016, our school board voted to eliminate the librarian position. One of the reasons given for this decision was that the library was simply not being utilized by the students and staff. Many of us felt a sense of disappointment at the decision, but it was hard to justify staffing the position when the number of users did not support the need. Financially, it did not make sense to keep a full-time librarian. The 2016-2017 school year opened with the library officially closed as there was no one assigned to check the books in and out.
Time for Change
Walking past the empty library made me determined to find a way to revive this space and transform it into the heart of the building for students and staff. I had the desire-what I needed was an idea. I am a member of The Fluency Project at Carnegie Mellon University and during the 2016-2017 school year, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel with the Fluency team to Chicago in December of 2016. During this visit we toured the YouMedia room at Chicago Public Library. YouMedia was bright, active and engaging. The staff was energetic, engaged and knowledgeable. The space was designed with stations scattered around the room focusing on topics including photography, video games, fashion design, nail art, model train building, vinyl cutting, and tinkering. It is important to note that books are central to the YouMedia space and were displayed in an inviting way on cool, metal bookshelves on wheels. Cozy reading nooks in window seats that looked out on the streets of downtown Chicago invited students to grab a book, sit down, and read.
YouMedia was the inspiration I needed! I returned from the trip energized and pitched the idea to our principal, Michael Loughren. He was immediately supportive and we began to investigate ways to generate funds to convert the space. Lisa Rowley, the grant writer for the district joined the team along with Laura Begg, a high school history teacher. The four of us were able to utilize about $12,000 left over from a grant to begin purchasing materials for our as yet unnamed space. We had to meet a deadline of June 30, 2017 to have all materials on site. We were able to purchase tool chests, a variety of seating options including stools and bean bag chairs, a flat screen tv, vinyl cutter, laminator, poster maker, sewing machines and a gaming system. We also purchased area rugs, a new computer and work lights. Now, we had to decide what to do with the books, furniture and bookshelves in the library. We also needed a name for the space.
Everyone agreed that the carpeting needed to be ripped up, the bookshelves needed to be removed, the walls needed to be painted and the furniture needed to be relocated. As the English Department Chair, I was also concerned about what would happen to the books since the space did not have anyone assigned to check books in and out. I did not want the library raided and the books to disappear into classrooms or people’s homes; I needed a space to store the collection. I eventually found the perfect spot in the back of the library in a large room that used to house film strips and overhead projectors. The room had a door with a lock and metal shelves along the walls. It was the perfect spot to keep our collection safe until we could make the books available to students again. We set a tentative opening date of January 30, 2018.
Our next step involved choosing paint colors and deciding on a name for the space. We picked a nautical blue and a lime green color combination to brighten up the drab walls and give the place a fresh vibe. After many discussions, “The Shop” was chosen as the name of this new area to reflect the connection between the ideas of making and entrepreneurship. The ultimate goal of the space is to provide an opportunity for students to develop and test ideas for their products or original designs. A local company, Image 360, was hired to create signage that would redefine the space. We worked closely with the design team to create the artwork that covers almost the entire back wall. The finished product is featured in the photo on page one. Once the walls were complete, we turned our attention to the floor. Dennis McDade, the head of maintenance, found a company that would polish and finish our concrete floor to give us an industrial vibe.
With the basic features of the room complete, it was time to set up the stations. Using the supplies we purchased with the grant money, we organized the space into 13 different stations. The photos show how the room was finished with the equipment; the only thing missing is the students!
The Shop at Carlynton High School officially opened on Thursday, April 12, 2018. This is later than we had originally planned, but it will be worth the wait. We are hosting an open house on Monday, May 21st from 1-4 during Remake Learning Week, and all are invited to stop by and see The Shop in person.