Want Professional Recognition and $4,000 for Your School Library?

Inter-American Magnet School student artwork, as part of Who Are We? program.

Are you a K–8 school librarian who believes that library programming—with a goal of broadening student perspective—is a central tenet to an elementary or middle school library curriculum? Did you conduct such a humanities-based program in the 2011–2012 school year? You could be eligible to apply for the Sara Jaffarian School Library Program Award for Exemplary Humanities Programming!

The Sara Jaffarian Award was established in 2006 to recognize and promote excellence in humanities programming in elementary and middle school (K–8) libraries. It is presented annually by the Public Programs Office, in cooperation with the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), and named for Sara Jaffarian, whose donation to ALA’s Cultural Communities Fund established the award. Jaffarian, a retired school librarian and long-time ALA member, spent her career passionately advocating for school libraries in every school. Applications for the 2013 Jaffarian Award will be accepted online through December 15, 2012. The winning library will receive a $4,000 cash award; a plaque; and promotion as a model program for other school libraries.

To help inspire you with your own application, we asked Francis Feeley, school librarian at Inter-American Magnet School in Chicago, and winner of the 2012 Jaffarian Award, to offer some more information on his award-winning program, “Who Are We?,” and to suggest some tips for potential applicants. Feeley will also provide a more in-depth presentation of his Who Are We? program in a free online learning session on Wednesday, October 24, 2012, at 4 p.m. Central. Editor’s note: You can view the archived presentation at Programming Librarian’s online learning archive.

Programming Librarian: Please briefly describe your school library’s humanities program. Why did you decide to put the program up for consideration for the Jaffarian Award?

Francis Feeley: The program that emerged—“Who Are We?”—challenged multi-age classrooms of seventh- and eighth-grade students to explore the behavior of human beings in the past and present in a series of quarterly research projects. Utilizing print and online resources and multiple social networking tools, students worked in small groups to research and create presentations of their findings about topics exploring individual and collective human behavior and action. Among the project themes were characteristics of the American population, protest movements in U.S. history, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a biography study of individuals who stood up to power.

I became aware of the Jaffarian Award several months after completing the series of projects and only a few days before the application deadline. The work seemed like a great fit with the Jaffarian Award requirements. Because I was in the habit of documenting and posting all the components of the projects online, I had all the information I needed on my own library website.

PL: What were some challenges that you encountered during your library’s humanities program? How did you overcome them?

FF: The project work reflected in my application represented the first year of engaging in projects such as this. We are now in our third year. Among the challenges of the first year were practical ones such as determining the ideal size of the student groupings and dealing with limited numbers of computer units available in the library and the computer lab. We also struggled with how to align the library project content with the content of the social sciences classes even though, at the time, not all students were enrolled in library classes and social sciences classes at the same time. Another challenge was establishing expectations among students with a wide range of skills and developmental levels. At the outset many students found the open-ended nature of these projects daunting. It took time for many to accept that they were expected to think for themselves and to form opinions rather than simply find and report the “right answer.”

PL: What do you think set your program apart from all the other 2012 Jaffarian applicants?

FF: I believe the strongest part of my application was the integration of technology tools with good humanities content. The social networking tools utilized provided students the opportunity to share findings and communicate in various ways. This allowed for sharing of ideas between and among students from different classes, including the art students, who found inspiration for art projects from library students’ research.

I think that my application was strong because I work in a school community that is comfortable engaging middle school students in discussion and analysis of real-world issues that are considered too controversial in other communities.

PL: How does your school library plan to use the $4,000 award?

FF: I am going to dedicate some of the funds to purchasing print resources to support humanities projects. I am dedicating the majority of the funds to the installation of technology improvements, including a document camera, a ceiling-mounted projector, and a screen so that I can project books during read-alouds and demonstrate technology tasks on the iPad from the reading rug. It is my long-term goal to use iPad technology to provide younger students a greater number and range of research experiences to prepare them to take on challenging social sciences projects such as the ones described in my Jaffarian Award application.

PL: Do you have any advice for prospective Jaffarian Award applicants?

FF: The process of completing the application required me to reflect on the work in a way that resulted in much improvement in the planning and execution of subsequent projects. If you are engaging in humanities projects that you believe provide valuable learning experiences to students, share them however you can! Create digital documentation of your work. You never know when it will be helpful to you or to others. Further, the simple act of writing down your vision and goals represents a commitment to continue to improve your teaching. And if you win and your application becomes public, that commitment becomes supported by others around you.

Other suggestions for a Jaffarian Award application include the following elements: collaboration with other teachers, cross-curricular work, and student products that be shared with the larger community online or in some other format.