Because many students never take courses where topics such as financial planning, interpersonal relations, or community engagement are offered, this places a large gap in the lives of students who need to be prepared for life after they leave school. It also provides a great opportunity for the school librarian.
Being able to graduate students who are ready to move into the next stage of their journey to adulthood begins with that first day of school as a preschool or kindergarten student and continues each day of each year until they graduate.
Civic responsibility involves giving students a sense of their responsibilities as citizens and what will be required of them. Many agree that schools no longer teach "civics" and students are not well prepared to understand governance.
The library, then, becomes an epicenter where students can engage around concepts of civic responsibility—even at the earliest ages. These ideas can be introduced through many avenues, including targeted readalouds.
In his book for preschoolers through grade 1, Dave Eggers asks, What Can a Citizen Do? (Chronicle Books, 2018). The concept of changing laws is offered simplistically and will help children begin to understand how to right wrongs. It is an introduction to the civics instruction they will have later in their school careers. For an early elementary lesson plan using this book, see "Teaching with What Can a Citizen Do?"
Civics instruction teaches the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Children are taught citizenship skills in preschool when they are given practice in getting along with others, when they learn how to behave in certain situations and begin to develop their leadership skills. It also means acknowledging the care of community property such as the books they find in their library and classroom.
Just like learning how to be a part of a school community is a part of early education, civic responsibility can be demonstrated in the library by asking students to consider library "rules." It would be a good time to let the third graders start considering why and what should be the library rules. This may take a little courage on your part, but if they create the rules, they are more likely to be willing to follow them. This activity can be a regular part of library orientation for the third graders each year, giving these students ownership of their environment.
Students learn about their home, their school, their community, and their nation. Learning the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem are ways to begin incorporating the larger world into the classroom. These are symbols of our national pride and give a sense of what it means to be a citizen of the United States. With their classroom teachers, explanations of the words, the reasons for saying the pledge to the flag, why it is said, why one stands for the national anthem, and the meaning of those words can be discussed as often as needed. The music and art teacher can both be helpful in reinforcing this learning.
Some students in a classroom or their parents may have been born in a different country. If it is unclear what their legal status is, it is not mentioned. However, if students who interview their parents find their grandparents or great grandparents came here from another country and were once living under a different flag with a different national anthem, sharing this helps expand the concept of living in a global community.
It is never too early to begin talking about the responsibility to vote in elections. This can be a gentle, fun introduction by carrying out the voting process. Books can be read during storytime with the very youngest and, as students mature, conversations can be held about state and national elections. If an elementary school is a polling place, that election process will be, literally, on their doorstep.
It is incumbent on educators to make sure that children become engaged, interested, and willing to work within their communities and their nation. Whether coteaching with colleagues in the classrooms or supporting students through library programming and activities, civics education is a great opportunity to use your leadership role to make sure your students have the tools they need to be active citizens in their communities.
School librarians are positioned to make a positive impact on students' lives when it matters most. Focusing on preparation for life after high school, this book cites research and provides anecdotes of successful programs as examples of how school librarians, in collaboration with counselors, community members, public libraries, and teachers, can develop collections and offer programming to show students the importance of finishing high school. Chapters also explain how to help students to find the college or university that fits with their educational interests and won't cause them to incur enormous debt. Included in every chapter are activities, resources, and lesson plans around topics at each grade level for librarians to co-teach with teachers, counselors, and other school staff.
Drawing on stories from successful programs and research, this book shows librarians how to provide students with the practical information they need for a bright future. Chapters cover career readiness, financial literacy, and civic responsibility at each grade level.
• Addresses the problem of gaps in most school curriculums
• Defines the school librarian's leadership role in addressing this problem
• Gives concrete examples, tools, and lessons for use in schools K–12
• Defines the school librarian's role in collaboratively addressing readiness for the real world after high school