Prepare students for work
Andy Plemmons
March 6, 2018

The purpose of school is to prepare students for the workforce, but sometimes schools struggle to connect what students learn in the classroom to real-world careers. I supervise a Student Book Budget Committee, which gives students a taste of different job skills, including collaborating on projects, analyzing data and using that data to make a decisions. They also learn how to handle a budget and apply the basics of marketing. Here’s how the project works.

Tackling a project

Every year a group of students volunteer their time to select new books for the library to purchase. To select participants, I create a Google form application that is emailed out to our 3rd– through 5th-grade students. Students must agree that they will meet at the times I have determined (usually during lunch and/or recess), as well as share why they want to be in the book budget group.

I set a window of time for students to apply. When that window closes, I accept every student who applied, agreed to come to our meetings, and had a valid reason for wanting to be in the group. The committee meets a few times per week to select books that students have requested for the library, working with an allotted budget that comes from grants, book fair profits, and  Capstone Rewards points, a customer rewards program from one of our vendors.

The money is completely under the control of these students, but they must base their decisions on what the rest of the school wants to read.

To determine this, they create a Google form survey, which we email to the upper grades in the school. For the lower grades, each student on the book budget team chooses a class to go and survey with an iPad. Students then analyze their results to identify top-requested genre categories, as well as specific books.

The committee then meets with vendors, creates consideration lists, and narrows down these lists to a final order based on budget limitations. We also have discussions about how to use incentives like rewards programs to make our budget reach as far as possible, which is great for teaching students about saving money and stretching budgets. This year’s book budget group purchased more than 150 new books for our library. This year’s committee also had to sort the books, labeling them with the correct genre and then scanning them into our circulation system. Students then arrange the books for display all over the library.

Connecting interests to career paths

Each year, stories rise to the surface about students who take a stand for other students’ requests, students who find a certain talent within the many pieces of book budgets, and students who suddenly find a real-world connection through our project. For example, one year a student had the creative idea to start putting the books on the little ledge in the wall of windows that faces the hallway, facing out. That way, people would see them as they walked down the hallway, and it would entice them to come into the library. It was a great idea, and within the day that the books were put on display, almost all of them were checked out. When I posted her idea on social media, one of our vendors immediately responded to offer her an honorary marketing internship.

The student had no idea that what she was doing was called marketing, and we were able to connect an interest she had to an actual career path that she might not have ever considered. The vendor sent over an “honorary marketing intern” certificate for her, along with a photo tour of their offices, in the event that she became an intern with them. “They seriously did that for me?” was her response. We put the tour up on the big screen and sat together and chatted about what we saw. The presentation continued with explanations of the types of jobs she would do as a marketing intern, such as working on their catalog and analyzing the data of their users. By the end of our conversation, her wheels were turning, thinking about all the different careers she could funnel her skills into.

Working within a community

When our students see that the work they do matters to a larger community, it gives them a sense of purpose. Likewise, working within the smaller Student Book Budget Committee shows them how to work together as part of a team to tackle a real-life project that has real results. This teaches them skills that every adult in the workforce needs, like the necessity of compromise, splitting a large project into manageable tasks, and working within a budget.

Every year, I value this process of seeing students take part in the process of collection-development, instead of just requesting books to be purchased. When they take part in every step of the collection-development process, they see the thought that goes into each book on our library shelves, and they see that their interests and requests matter because they immediately see them represented in the books on our shelves. On top of that, one of our vendors, Capstone, allowed each of our committee members to choose a book that was their personal choice for the library. These books were donated to us, and students got to put a personalized label on the inside cover to show that they were the selector of the book.

If the library is to be a true community, then one person can’t decide on all of the books in the collection. As the media specialist, I certainly have a major role in collection development, but when my students work alongside me in this process, we all become members of our library, rather than just consumers.

Andy Plemmons is the media specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary in Athens, GA. He is also the 2017 American Association of School Librarians Social Media Superstar for Sensational Student Voice, a 2016 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, a Google Innovator, and an NSBA “20 to Watch” honoree. Find him on the Barrow Media Center blog, or on Twitter at @plemmonsa.

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