Friday, October 14, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Making a Difference

I'm a bleeding heart (not a bleeding heart liberal, just a bleeding heart). Of course I do what I do because I really want to help people. I care deeply about my community and its future. The library, particularly a library in the lower socio-economic neighborhood, is uniquely positioned to make a difference.

I consider myself to work in an education-adjacent field (not in a school, but next door both literally and spiritually) and fairly up to date. However I was shocked to learn that the Anchorage graduation rate is hovering around 70%. And even more appalled to hear Anchorage citizens saying they don't want to pay for schools because they don't have children. I don't have children (at this point in my life), but I'm happy to pay for schools. I'm invested in having well-educated doctors in the next 40 years and also in having a barista who can make proper change. I know that businesses and industries don't want to build in communities where they can not recruit qualified employees. Most importantly schools are cheaper than prisons. And more than 61% of the prison population does not have a high school diploma. Healthy schools=healthy community.

United Way of Anchorage has launched a fantastic new effort called 90 by 2020, to increase graduations rates to 90% by 2020. I've attended some of their community conversations. On their site there are 10 simple things (based on research, including interviews with teens) you can do to show kids you care. The entire community, even those of us without kids, can help. It's a bit easier for me since I work in a public library, but for my Friday Five, here are five of the ten simple things I am doing.

  1. Smile At Me
    When I see a teen or young person, I smile, I make eye contact. That simple. At the library or at the grocery store. Too many teens receive hostile looks (clearly they're here to make trouble, steal, they're in a gang) or are ignored. Simply acknowledging their presence as you would any other human you share the planet with can be powerful.

  2. Learn My Name
    I know some of the teens at the library and greet them by name. And I'm trying to learn more. It's cool. The teens are asking my name and making an effort to say hello to me by name. They want to know you as much as you want to know them. (Well assuming you want to know them, and I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt here.) I'm even trying to greet the neighbor's teens by names as I pass them.

  3. Catch Me Doing Something Right
    A lot of times we focus on the discipline issues, the 10% of the population that cause 90% of the problems. We don't pay any attention to the kids that are doing it right. In and around this library (and neighborhood) we have a HUGE litter problem. It's epidemic. We've bought trashcans and put them every 10 feet in the library and strategically located immediately outside the doors. Still I see kids toss a candy wrapper on the ground when they're within arms throw of the trash can. It's infuriating. So now when I see a kid throwing their trash into a garbage bin I very publicly thank them.

  4. Answer My Questions
    Duh. This is the entire point of the library reference desk. But we all need to remember that kids and teens as patrons are as important as adults. I've seen staff members skip over or short change teens while having long in-depth conversations with adults about the latest greatest mystery. Every patron in front of you is an individual deserving of respect and your full attention.

  5. Be Available
    After school my library is swarmed with kids from the nearby schools. It is not uncommon for the kids to number in the triple digits while I can count my staff on one hand. It's not easy to be available to them. Sometimes I'm running from question to question, discipline situation to drama/crisis and I don't look available. I look (and legitimately am) busy. And when it's over I'm sometimes burnt out. All I want to do is hide in my office and work quietly on a project on my computer. But I try my best. When I'm in my office, I leave my door open. My office is in the front of the library and I greet kids who come in with a smile. Occasionally they just want to chat a bit. That's okay too. (For a little while at least). And as I do my walk throughs of the library, I try not to just zoom past looking for discipline issues, but to slow down and engage with the teens.

So that's what I'm doing. I encourage you to look at the site and think about what you can do.


Julie said...

Beth - I am so thankful that you wrote this! Teenagers are some of the most amazing people in the world when you take the time to get to know them. I'm doing confirmation classes at my church (with Glenn and Barbara Ladd!) and it's really been a huge blessing getting to know them. I've commented a few times now how unique and insightful their perspectives are if you take the time to listen. Keep up the positive work! I look forward to reading more.

Dale Sheldon-Hess said...

Great stuff!

Just to clarify (not that you've made this error here, just that I've seen it repeated many times in ADN comments before and want to head it off): the graduation rate is the percentage of students who earn a normal diploma (not a GED) in the normal time span (i.e., were never held back a year.)

So it's not like 28% of students are dropping out (which is what you always see people claiming in ADN comments.) The actual drop-out rate in Anchorage high schools is a much more respectable (but still not nearly good enough!) 4%.

Born Librarian said...

Julie, I'm so glad you're helping out with confirmation. Say hi to the Ladds for me!
Dale, good point about the difference between ontime graduation and graduation rates.