Making meaningful community partnerships is not always the easiest thing to do as a school librarian. As Jen Gilbert reported, volunteering opportunities and public library collaboration topped the list when we asked librarians "How Do You Connect with Your Community?" That makes sense as those activities easily fit into many of our programs. However, what if we think outside of our own classroom? At my own school, Eminence Independent, in Eminence, Kentucky, we have two programs that I think really help our library program reach out to the greater community.
Passion Project Week is a time where all our teachers have a chance to share their own knowledge or spend time learning about something new. Students, kindergarten through twelfth grade, sign up for two or three options they think they would be interested in. Once students have a project, everyone in the school spends four days exploring, learning, experiencing, and, most relevant to this post, making connections to the local community and beyond. Although the students are not all going through the library or librarian to complete them, these projects are the perfect opportunity for us to share our knowledge in locating information, using technology, and connecting professionals with each other.
Learning about and volunteering for a local animal shelter, working with a local nursery to make over an outdoor courtyard, learning about jobs in the medical field through in-person and web-based interviews, and receiving training from a local professional chef are just a few examples of how passion projects or project-based learning can bring the community into your school. Another of our groups is meeting and learning from active-duty members of the military to learn what a career in that field might look like. A group of our kindergartners is actually organizing a donation and book sale to raise money for our school library! Finally, a group of high school students is spending the week at a glass-blowing shop in Louisville, learning about and creating their own artwork.
This is our fourth year holding Passion Project Week, including a presentation night as a culminating event. Parents and the community are invited to visit and learn directly from students about their experiences over the four days. This is not just another "free" week. Students are documenting the process and developing a presentation or performance for the evening event. In addition to students experiencing possibly once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunities, they are also bringing experts, businesses, and the greater community into our school, forming relationships that are often continued into the future.
Similar to the Passion Project Week, our school also offers a genius hour elective for high school students. Jen Gilbert, my partner librarian, facilitates this class held in our school library. In a way, this class is a year-long passion project. One student is interested in starting his own small business; a local bakery welcomed him in for a few days so he could get a behind-the-scenes look at running a true small business. During another project, the students participated in an organized entrepreneurial challenge where they visited a university to be judged and get feedback on their original business plans.
These partnership opportunities provide unique experiences for our students and authentic instructional opportunities to embed much of our traditional information and media literacy curriculum. In addition, this is a valuable form of advocacy for our school and library program. People outside of your school will see for themselves the passion your teachers and students have for learning and how the library is a huge part of that. You may not be able to replicate exactly what is happening at Eminence, but hopefully, these projects will spark some ideas of your own to get your school and community connected.