A school with no books! A digital bookroom and library! A place where at any moment a child’s interest, a teacher’s brainstorm, a principal’s dream could become reality with the click of a button by the Director of Knowledge.
Da Vinci Revisited
Over the past three blog posts, “Between Passion and Possibility”, “Fatal Flaw”, and “Elevator Speech”, I’ve shared the beginnings of my journey working to open my own teacher-led high school, Da Vinci High. With the mission, the vision, and the elevator speech complete, the detailed work of writing the charter application begins. One of the more interesting aspects of working as a full time teacher in a comprehensive high school while working on my dream school is the juxtaposition of my reality and my dream. The book room is one such juxtaposition.
Learning from my past
Last year I wrote about getting to know students in three days. What I didn’t write about was how I used the information I found out about the kids to help them be successful. One of the most successful plans involved abandoning the established curriculum in my most challenging classes. They refused to read. They hated it. So, I reached out to my previous Library Media Specialist, sent her the spreadsheet I keep with profiles on all my students, and asked her to recommend books for each of them. Ultimately, the school ordered the books for them, and my students read them! We celebrated each of them having read their first book completely.
I worried that they would fail the next year when they had to return to the cannon, I have two of them in my classes this year, and the others from that class visit me frequently. Over the past four weeks, as English teachers talked about their classes, I would hear the names of some of those students. To my great joy, they have become shining stars in their English classes. These are students who had failed every English class and English test since fourth grade. This year they are scoring at or above grade level on the reading test, contributing to the dialogue around literature, and modeling how to be a successful student.
Two weeks ago, as I worked on the charter application, I was thinking about these very students. I was thinking about the bookroom and the library and how, with limited budgets, they can become a limiting space. As an English teacher and avid reader who has yet to get an eReader, I was shocked by my thoughts. Could we run a school without bookrooms, without a library?
This past week, I invited my Library Media Specialist, who had helped me with my struggling readers the year before, and asked her this very question. For three hours, as we watched the Denver Broncos play football, we explored the possibilities. If we placed all of our funds that would normally be budgeted for hardcover books into a technology resource fund, could we actually have more money and more flexibility for reading materials? How could we replace the resources of the school media center?
We are exploring the idea that if we can find a building site close to a public library, we could partner with them as our school library. This would not only give us access to many more books than we could ever afford, but would also allow us to access to their tremendous resources that would serve our vision of a school for everyone—where students, staff, and family could go and engage with the public library resources. In terms of a virtual bookroom, we are less sure of its potential. We are reaching out to book vendors and asking them if they have the capacity to allow a school access to a flexible and adaptable eReader platform.
Oddly, the reduction or elimination of hard copy books from the school makes the role of the Library Media Specialist even more critical. Their role would include partnering with the public library, coordinating and negotiating with the book vendors, and coordinating the technology plan. Most importantly, the Library Media Specialist would be responsible for connecting just the right book with just the right kid, and just the right set of books for just the right class, thus making the role of the Librarian the dispenser of all knowledge at Da Vinci. Between the Director of Possibilities and the Director of Knowledge (the Library Media Specialist), Da Vinci will be awash in new, flexible, and relevant activity.
Living the Dream
If we can make this work, the next time there is a class of struggling readers disconnected from the traditional curriculum, we can engage them with a click of a button by the Director of Knowledge. And if the qualitative results from my very small sample size of 13 boys from last year are valid, we could reinvigorate 400 children and be a model for public education and charter schools. Now there’s a possibility worth working for.
I would love to hear from anyone who has left the bookroom and/or library behind and made my radical ideas a reality.