The first day of school in August 2013, three teens came to see me afterschool and told me all about their classes. After we were finished talking, they all did their homework on the floor in my office. This wasn’t the first time this had happened; a lot of the kids prefer the relative quiet of my office than the louder (and very tiny) teen area. I asked them if I started a study hall if they would use it and the answer was a resounding yes.
There is a Homework Center room in the children’s area that is only used by homeschoolers. Our library building went through a renovation in 2008, three years before I was hired as the first teen services librarian. That means there was no one fought for a space for the teens. There really isn’t space for them in their own area to study. Luckily, our new children’s librarian was more than happy to let the teens use the homework center to study.
It quickly became apparent that a study hall was needed, as the teens that used it did not have a computer or Internet access at home. And even if they did type their papers on the library’s public computers, they didn’t have the money to pay for prints. Factor in teachers putting their homework, study guides, and extra credit online and the need for this study hall spoke for itself. A couple of teens told me later that doing homework at home wasn’t an option since they lived with 8 other people in a small two-bedroom apartment.
The teens and I developed a routine. The study hall is a passive program. It doesn’t start until someone shows up. The teens usually told me about their day or what grade they got on a test and then we would go into the homework center and they would do their homework. If they needed to use a computer, we had ChromeBooks the state had sent us for them to use and had them access the library’s Wifi to get online. I taught them how to use Google Docs as a way to write papers and create presentations. This way they could access their work no matter where they were. They used our tutoring client to get help with calculus, learned how to use the online public access catalogs to look for books they needed and I taught them to use databases instead of always defaulting to Google. I printed everything they needed at no charge.
I’m not sure when it happened, but along the way study hall became a safe place. The teens were there to motivate and support each other. If they didn’t have homework that day, they would still come in and support others doing theirs. It was during these days they started to talk about colleges. They researched colleges. Asked about majors. Researched those majors. Found schools to match the majors. Pretty soon their party line wasn’t, “if I go to college” it was “when I go to college.”
Now when they finish their homework, they talk about SAT, PSAT, ACT and how they relate to college. Recently after a Teen Advisory Group meeting, they all sat around and talked about grade point averages, test scores, and whether or not they needed to join clubs or volunteer more in order to make themselves more appealing to colleges. Not going straight to a four-year college is not an option. They do not want each other to flounder in community college. They have come to expect the very best from one another.
When I decided to start the study hall, my hope was that I would be able to level the playing field for the teens who didn’t have all the amenities a lot of people take for granted. I hoped maybe their grades would improve and they would realize their own potential. I would never have guessed it would become such a tight group to support and encourage each other. More often than not, I sit back and am amazed by their drive and expectations of and for one another. They’ve risen above and beyond; all I did was give them a space.
Faythe is the Tech Services Manager for the Tulare County Library in way-too-sunny California, but works mainly at the Visalia Branch Library. You can find Faythe on Twitter (@farre) or Tumblr (farre.tumblr.com).