Chocolate, rollercoasters, and … libraries

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Chocolate, rollercoasters, and … libraries

Voice: July 2017 

Not all visitors to Hershey come to see how some of the world’s best chocolate is made, or to seek thrills on the many roller coasters in its world-famous amusement park.

Some are representatives of school districts around Pennsylvania who visit Hershey High School to learn about one of the state’s top library systems.

Yes, the Derry Twp. School District, Dauphin County, is fortunate to have a strong economic base from The Hershey Company, the H.B. Reese Candy Co., the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, and the Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company.

But its showcase library program – there are full-time librarians and professional aides giving students hands-on attention daily at Hershey High School and four other buildings – comes from far more than resources.

It starts with a strong commitment from the administration toward the library program, a commitment based on a strong belief that libraries are a key part of the educational program.

“From our perspective, the library really should be the hub that the school operates from,’’ said Derry Twp. Superintendent Joseph McFarland. “For the innovation, for the collaboration, for the sharing.’’

Librarians heart of it all

As important as commitment and resources are, quality librarians are the ones who make it all work – both in the library with students and assisting teachers with curriculum.

Meet Allison Mackley, Hershey High School librarian and instructional technology coach, who was among 12 finalists for Pennsylvania’s 2017 Teacher of the Year.

She teaches classes in the library on research and technology, co-teaches an AP language arts class, and teaches an online class called “Passion Driven Research’’ that allows students to undertake projects they are interested in but might not get to do in school. Examples include how video games impact brain development and social media’s impact on elections.

Mackley also works with students on how best to use the technology; how to find credible sources on the internet; copyright restrictions; research notetaking and citations; graphic design; and how to present research work.

For students who don’t have their own laptops and iPads for these lessons and for their own research, the library loans them out. There are also pre- and after-school library hours.

Mackley feels fortunate to have the resources and commitment she does in Derry Twp., but as vice president of the Pennsylvania State Librarians Association she knows the severe budgetary and staffing limitations under which some of her counterparts are working.

“Coming from a district that supports students with full-time, certified librarians in each library, I am able to see the disparity of services offered to students in other school districts,’’ Mackley said. “Without fully staffed libraries, the personalized formal and informal learning opportunities a librarian can provide are lost. Librarians inspire curiosity and help students explore personal interests.’’

Culture, environment key components

In addition to resources and staffing, another large piece of the pie is the design of the library.

Mackley went to work on this when she took over as high school librarian 10 years ago after 14 years of teaching English.

There is a lot of glass – from the bright, open glass panels and ceiling in the atrium with plants and small trees at the library entrance, to the individual classrooms and other designated rooms within the library itself. High-topped café-style tables and stools are arranged around more traditional furnishings, and student artwork adorns the walls.

Mackley started a Learning Commons Council two years ago – an official school club with officers – that provides advice on what students want in their library.

“I want students to help make the decisions about what is going on in the library,’’ Mackley said. “They are the ones who use it and can give the best feedback on what is going to work for them. They are the ones who make decisions about the culture of the library and the environment.’’

Part of the culture, which has become the norm for school libraries, is that there is noise and chatter everywhere, except for the classrooms, and a room set aside as a quiet zone or “think tank.’’ Many research projects involve collaboration, and the students simply need to be able to talk among themselves. Snacks and drinks are allowed.

“I try not to have a lot of do’s and don’ts,’’ Mackley said. “Sometimes it gets noisy but the students know my limits. And I list my three expectations on the wall: ‘Be Productive, Be Responsible, Be Respectful.’’’

Despite Hershey High School’s reputation and impressive resources and surroundings, Mackley still sees the library as a work in progress.

She is working toward turning a faculty reading room into a studio where students can do things like work on audio/visual presentations and music recitals.

“Kids are all over the hallways trying to find places to film,’’ Mackley said. “This will give them a space.’’