Once upon a time, I started my own free after-school program for elementary and middle school children. I worked with a few neighborhood children in a donated space. After I arranged for the room, I talked with local parents to advertise my services. My next steps were to buy computers from an auction and to install software on them. I also bought a few workbooks and educational toys. The primary focus of the program was homework completion. After finishing homework, the rest of the afternoon was spent reinforcing the competencies required for standardized tests.
Unfortunately, the program ended when I moved to another city. There was no one to continue it. Although it was only a few children, I felt good about the work. Spending a little time with children can make a big difference in their lives. I haven’t done any afterschool outreach in a while, and quite frankly, my life has changed drastically over the years. I have not had the time. Now I think I am at a place again where I can work in my community.
I am thinking about a mobile literacy program and trying to figure out how to take the show on the road. Now I work at a university, and I don’t think that parents will feel inclined to find parking and bring children to a busy college campus. (However, I believe that being on a campus can inspire children to want to go to school. Perhaps I will write more about that later.)
That is why I was pleased when I found the “Unique Approaches to Library Makerspaces” session at the 2019 AASL National Conference. The session was presented by the three authors Diana Redina, Dr. Heather Moorefield-Lang, and Gina Seymore.
Listening to the presentation helped me to think about my next move. I found the following tips relevant.
- Do not build your program around equipment. Start with a community assessment to determine what will engage your audience. Then your program will be about the experience instead of the equipment.
- Build a committee to support your efforts. (In my case, I will ask my peers and local educators for advice.)
- Recycling will help with creating opportunities on a budget. Start by looking at what is not being used in your school.
- Borrow items and test them before you buy them. A community organization might oblige you if you tell them your plan.
- Write to companies and ask for funding, equipment, and material donations.
- Ask your school and local community for donations. People may be willing to donate items such as paper towel rolls and old sewing machines.
- Don’t delay the start of your program to learn new skills. Instead, start simple and learn with the students. It is okay if you are not an expert.
- Think about how to make marginalized groups feel welcome (e.g., an alternative STEM club for girls).
- Share your culture and invite other cultures to be shared to promote inclusivity.
- Make activities welcoming by thinking about the following:
- Offering Braille
- Producing video instructions
- Including closed captions on videos
- Providing adjustable tables
- Using easy-to-reach shelves
- Considering color-blind students
- Using pictures for labels
- Supplying tools for left-handed students
To conclude, I am going to start the new year off by dedicating myself to the implementation of a new community outreach project. Although I will be creating a literacy program instead of a makerspace, the tips shared by the presenters apply to developing most enrichment programs. I hope the suggestions have been helpful to you too.
AASL members can watch the session for free. If you attended the conference and missed the session, you can review it until January 31, 2020. This link has the directions for accessing the archives: https://national.aasl.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/FA-Flyer.pdf. I hope to share more about my program in the future.
In the meantime, please see the professional development for this month.
Author: Daniella Smith
Daniella Smith, PhD. is a former school and public librarian. She is currently an associate professor at the University of North Texas.