After school, during summer and in places where kids rebound from trouble, local librarians are stepping up literacy efforts tailored for disadvantaged youth — and winning national recognition in the process.
At Boys Totem Town, a correctional facility for juvenile offenders, Leslie Yoder of the St. Paul public schools teamed with teen librarians at the Ramsey County Library to arrange for a visit from author Francisco X. Stork and to set up special “tech days” for kids who had strayed from schools and learning.
Recently, two teens stepped out of a Boys Totem Town classroom to express their determination at turning their lives around — an effort due in no small part to a renewed passion for reading. On the list for one: “The Hunger Games” and “My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King.” For the other: a GED testing guide.
Elsewhere, librarians are working to shrink a digital divide.
A pair of east-metro initiatives, Createch at the St. Paul Public Library and Teen Tech Summer Camp at the Ramsey County Library-Maplewood, were recognized earlier this month as being among the nation’s top innovative teen programs in 2012 by the Young Adult Library Services Association.
Hennepin County, too, made the list.
Teen Tech Summer Camp gives students the opportunity to create computer games and develop skills in podcasting and video recording and editing. The camp, which is to be offered again this summer, is a partnership between the Ramsey County Library and the Educational Equity Alliance. The alliance is an initiative designed in part to help close the achievement gap between white and minority students in the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District.
With the camp, students get “an intense tech experience that you’d spend a lot of money to go to ordinarily,” said Amy Boese, a Ramsey County Library teen librarian.
This summer, the St. Paul schools and city’s libraries are teaming up to require — for the first time — that all summer-school students have library cards. As part of the effort, the libraries will forgive some fines that may have discouraged kids from tapping such online resources as Homework Rescue.
There is hope, too, for further collaboration in 2013-14, said Karen Kolb Peterson, youth/public services manager for the St. Paul Public Library.
“We are working with some of the same young people,” she said last week. “It just seems intuitive and the right thing to do.”
Four afternoons a week, the Createch program finds librarians and others making iPads and other digital devices available on Mondays and Thursdays on the East Side, Wednesdays on the North End and Tuesdays at the Rondo Library on the border of the Frogtown and Summit-University areas.
The initiative, begun as a partnership between the St. Paul Public Library and the Science Museum of Minnesota, embraces a teen-education concept known as HOMAGO (Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out) — meaning some students may just grab an iPad to check Facebook while others play a bit with the lesson of the day and still others dive headlong into the activity, said project coordinator Janos McGhie.
“Recognizing that it’s OK to just hang out is your epiphany,” McGhie said, adding simple exposure to something that can help them later in life is what matters.
Since October 2012, the program has drawn an average of about 13 kids per event, and is growing in popularity, he said.
As a residential facility, Boys Totem Town requires kids to attend school daily. For three years, until the 2012-13 school year, Yoder had been its digital literacy and learning specialist. She recalls how some kids took to the gritty “street lit” of authors like Teri Woods, and how she’d say: “That’s junk food. You can read that, but then you have to read this.”
One teen, asked whether the genre was suitable for incarcerated peers, said flatly: “It gets them reading.”
Budget pressures have led to Yoder’s job being reorganized, leaving no one on hand to promote the “book talks” she organized with Ramsey County’s teen librarians.
But Theresa Neal, who oversees education programming at Boys Totem Town, said last week that she still relies on Yoder to “promote innovative and creative literacy efforts,” and noted how Yoder recently helped organize a “tech day” for residents in March.
“I’d like to think our kids are not too far removed from being 21st-century learners,” Neal said.