Each time one reads, sees, or hears about another wealthy donor providing some program to improve education, we wonder why our students can’t have the same. Helping students in communities with high poverty is not solely dependent upon an influx of funding. Every school librarian may begin helping students with high poverty by teaching a new literacy: life skills. Life skills literacy includes occupational/career, finance, and civic engagement.
Starting with kindergarten, students should learn about careers and the probable return on investment of their career choice, what education is needed to apply for that position, how much that education might cost, and how to meet requirements without being left with enormous debt. This education should continue throughout their K-12 education. Helping students define the choices they should make at each grade along the way is critical before they reach high school where they will choose between AP classes and community college/university or a vocational choice. Constantly reviewing their progress helps inform students when they need help to follow through with their plans, or, if they choose a different path, gives them other options such as a GED or other real chances that exist for employment in their community, including opportunities in the military.
In a world where technological advances cancel manual labor, any choice of vocation may change before students graduate. Life skills literacy will prepare them to address changes at this level so they may survive radical changes that can challenge them as adults. How to save to cover education costs and how to budget for living expenses when students leave home are also lessons that should be taught.
While this is perceived as the responsibility of the guidance counselors, many elementary schools lack guidance staff and those in middle and high schools are swamped with discipline, testing, and other assignments. Guidance counselors can collaborate, but they do not have access to regular classes that are available to school librarians. Designing a life skills literacy program is equally—if not even more important—than information literacy, and both include the ability to recognize when information is needed and where to find that information.
By exercising your school librarian leadership skills, you can involve teachers in collaborating with life literacy skills. Student assignments related to life literacy are enhanced through practice in the school library. Classroom success keeps students from leaving school before finishing high school.
Your leadership can involve parents and the community. Parents can share what goes on in their work places and what skills are required. Arranging for and helping teachers take classes to visit places of higher education, businesses, service agencies, construction sites, hospitals, and other locations allows students to see people at work who can answer their questions. Or do the preparation work and invite people from these sites to school to talk with students, perhaps with-brown bag lunches in the library.
While basic education is designed to teach children reading, writing, and arithmetic, tying all those efforts into a successful life after high school should be a major goal for every teacher and administrator, and school librarian. You are the logical person to make sure the curriculum includes these life skills. You have the resources to help all students—but particularly those from communities with high poverty—graduate from high school prepared to enter a successful future.