Going for the Gold: Transformative School Library Partners

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Olympic Rings

Valarie Hunsinger challenges librarians to think creatively in order to transform their library, you never know where it will lead. For Hunsinger, it led directly to Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas.

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Icely, a sixth grader in the Bronx, New York, can’t stop reading! It is impossible to find her without a book in hand. In the first few months of school, she has already read over fifty-four books and one million words! When asked why her reading has become so ravenous compared to the previous year, she says that she never wants to miss a “Gabby Douglas opportunity” again.
Many fellow students feel the same way. In 2012, students at Hyde Leadership Charter School in the Bronx (Hyde-Bronx) celebrated the Olympics by striving to “Go for the Gold” in their academic pursuits. Students who completed their summer reading journal started the year by receiving a reading gold medal from Ben Bratton, who was the youngest member to win a gold medal for America at the 2012 World Championships in Fencing.

Millionaires’ Challenge
After Bratton’s visit, the library launched a millionaires’ challenge. Students were challenged to read a million words, and I promised to find an Olympian to celebrate their huge accomplishment. As more and more students joined the Millionaires Club, the harder it seemed to find an Olympian, until one day my friend and corporate partner, Debra Braganza from City National Bank, called me and said, “I found an Olympian for you.” Little did I know that she had found one of the biggest Olympians—two-time gold medalist of the summer games, Gabby Douglas.
On May 1, 2013, fifty millionaire readers not only met Gabby Douglas at Barnes & Noble, but also received a signed copy of her newest book, Raising the Bar, thanks to City National Bank and Barnes & Noble. (The story can be found at: http://bronx.news12.com/news/students-in-hunts-point-soundview-meet-olympic-gold-medal-winner-gabby-douglas-1.5177727). Maria, an eighth grade student who read over five million words, said it was a day she would never forget for the rest of her life. It was also the day that I realized that in my library I must dream BIG and, even more importantly, I realized that to change the lives of my students, I needed partners that believe in big dreams!

Why Partnerships Are Crucial
As librarians we wear many hats: teacher, instructional partner, information specialist, program administrator, and leader. Libraries are also at the heart of the Common Core, the epicenter of student achievement, which is thoroughly documented in the School Library Impact Studies research summary produced by a Mansfield University graduate class (Kachel 2013). As education is rapidly evolving, libraries are more important than at any other time in history. It is an exciting time to be a librarian because the possibilities are endless. As Barbara Stripling says,

Libraries of all types across the country are on the move—they are transforming their programs, collections, and services to provide equitable access to information and meet the priorities of the communities they serve. Libraries are stepping up to become centers of conversation, community engagement, learning, and innovation (2014).

We must think creatively in order to transform libraries so libraries can, as Stripling says, “Change Lives.” One way Stripling says we can do this is by “Turning Outward” (2014). As librarians, we have many needs to meet, and to be successful, we must turn outward. We must reach out to others because we can’t do it all alone. One key way to do this is to form partnerships that provide innovative solutions and growth for library programs and patrons.
There are a myriad of partnership opportunities and the key is identifying your passion and the passion of the community you serve in order to “Go for the Gold” in your library. The more partnerships we form and cultivate the more windows of opportunity we will have, and the more success and enjoyment we will find in our libraries.

Many Different Partnerships
There are numerous library partnerships. Within a school, we can partner with students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Outside of school, the partnership opportunities are limitless from partnering with the district, public libraries, politicians, and vendors to the virtual, international, and many more. I will discuss a few unique ways to “turn outward” and transform our libraries.

Local Community Organizations
What if you could provide thousands of dollars worth of brand new books for your library? That would be a librarian’s dream! That is what happened for the campus library that services the Hyde-Bronx School, MS 424 and PS 352. In the South Bronx, one major local partner is the Hunts Point Alliance for Children (HPAC) whose mission is: “That every child in the 10474 zip code has access to basic necessities all children need to learn, grow, and develop their potential: education resources, sound nutrition, safe and secure housing” (http://www.hpac10474.org/our-community/) [Ed Note: HPAC can now be found at https://huntspoint.org/]. When I first discovered this organization five years ago as a new librarian, I knew they would be a perfect partner. I immediately met with director Maryann Hedaa to discuss my big vision for my students and library. Over the next two years we stayed in contact, and then one magical day, HPAC contacted me saying that a small bookstore was going out of business and wanted to donate their books, bookshelves, and book carts. In one phone call, the quality and quantity of my library services grew exponentially! Sometimes book donations can be overwhelming or a lot of work, but I found that it is always important to say “yes” because you never know when you will find that diamond in the rough or get an opportunity of a lifetime.
Many local partners like HPAC are looking to get involved in school and community programs. It helps them meet their philanthropic goals along with increasing their outreach.

Corporate Partnerships
A corporate partnership has been one of the single most important relationships for the Hyde-Bronx school library. Four years ago, Robin Balding, Senior Vice President of City National Bank (CNB), reached out to Hyde-Bronx because his daughter attended Hyde-Woodstock School. Balding was an involved parent and greatly appreciated the character-based program of Hyde schools.
We met to discuss Hyde-Bronx, a school located in one of the poorest congressional districts in the nation. We then scheduled a volunteer service day to enter recently donated books into our online catalog. One volunteer, Debra Braganza, became very interested in the school and ways that she could help. Her efforts have made the library program a huge success from book and Nook donations, to author visits, to book club trips. She worked with Carolyn Rodriguez, also with CNB, to create literacy programs for the school through their “Reading Is the Way Up” program. One of the first major projects they worked on was nominating Hyde-Bronx for the Barnes & Noble Holiday Book Drive, which collected over $10,000 worth of high-interest books.
CNB has been instrumental in exposing the students at Hyde to new opportunities to grow and advance in their love of reading. In an ongoing program, CNB also donates multiple copies of books for use in book clubs. After students finish the book, they participate in an in-depth discussion with employees of the bank who volunteer at the school. Each book club includes an interactive component. For example, students read The Book Thief and then visited the New York Jewish Museum. Students also read I Survived 9/11 and visited the 9/11 memorial site. The book clubs give students tangible and visceral experiences, bringing books to life. CNB also arranges author visits like Chris Grabenstein and Paul Volponi, allowing students to receive an inside look at the writing process, inspiring them to create their own stories.

Collaborative Partnerships
Partnerships not only provide growth for the library, but also allow for exceptional professional growth for the librarian to foster opportunities for innovation. As a librarian, my greatest source of inspiration has always come from other librarians. The depth of knowledge and creativity found in each librarian has been an incredible motivator. Adam Marcus, a librarian-extraordinaire found in Brooklyn, New York, is one such inspiration.
Each year my school offers teachers half a day to visit other school programs, and I am very thankful that I walked into Adam’s library. I discovered that he has created a number of successful partnerships. His collaborations include partnerships with his administration, parents, elected officials, the after-school program at his school, the tenant association president (from the neighborhood where most of his school’s students reside), and corporations.
When I connected with him recently, I was blown away by the innovation of his newest partnership endeavor. Adam realized that after launching two consecutive online summer book clubs he wasn’t able to reach the students who would benefit most from such a program. There is a large socio-economic and digital divide that needed a unique bridge. Adam came up with the idea to create a computer lab annex in the housing development where the largest percentage of his student population lives. Adam is working closely with his administration, parents, local politicians, the tenant association, the housing authority, and Good Shepherd Services, an after-school community-based organization, to partner in the operation of the lab.
In addition, Adam is currently raising the funds to make this dream a reality—a dream that will provide students and the community with online books, databases, digital classes, and so much more. Adam truly shows the power of bringing many groups together to positively transform educational outcomes. He states,
Over recent years, the teachers and staff at P.S. 32 have done an enormous amount of outreach and intervention to support our most under-resourced students and their families. We realize that further outreach needs to be done remotely, where our families live. The GoPro Annex will be the link between school and home that has been vacant for many of our students. We hope that this project can serve as a model for the rest of The City and Public Housing (Adam Marcus, email message to author, January 14, 2014).

Forming and Maintaining Partnerships
How can you turn outward to bring in these exciting opportunities? There is no set method, but the following tips and steps can help:

  • Identify your needs
  • Apply your passion
  • Think creatively
  • Research organizations
  • Reach out to applicable organizations
  • Connect personally
  • Identify common goals and potential whether the partner wants to donate time, talents, or treasure
  • Discuss objectives, needed resources, and relationships
  • Implement
  • Update partners and communicate the impact of collaboration
  • Most importantly, give thanks!

The most important thing is to take the leap to form partnerships because the results are transformative for everyone involved. It enables not only your students but allows you to reach toward your full potential. As Hyde-Bronx Elementary School Director Peter Anderson states,
While our society celebrates people who “make it big” as heroes, far more compelling are those who “do big things.” Our partnerships have enabled our students to meet people who have reached or who are climbing to the top in sports, business, and literature. These experiences have inspired in many of them the ambition to “do big things” (Peter Anderson, email message to author, December 28, 2013.)
Now is the time to do big things and “Go for the Gold”!

HunsingerValarie Hunsinger is a school librarian at the Hyde-Bronx School in New York City. She is devoted to providing innovative solutions that will foster access to information, resources, and partnerships both domestically and internationally.

Originally published in School Library Monthly, 30, no. 8 (May-June 2014).

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