How do you rebuild a 97-year-old media center? Well, in 21st-century style, of course!
Samsula Academy, formerly Samsula School, has been a successful institution since its inception in 1912, in no small part due to the commitment and involvement of the Samsula, Fla., community. But the school community had to think on its feet in February 2008 when the public school district announced its intention to close the doors of the small, rural campus, along with those of several other rural and minority schools across the county.
Over the course of the next 4 months, teachers and administrators were reassigned. School equipment, technology, and the media collection were packed up and shipped out by the district while school was still in session. It was a disheartening scenario. But at the same time, parents and friends of the school were equally busy, hammering out an alliance with a successful charter school in order to keep the doors open.
The conversion was successful, and the school reopened seamlessly in time for the 2008–2009 school year. The community remained firmly behind the new school directors, opening only eight students shy of the closing enrollment. During the first year, parents had plenty of opportunity to learn more about the charter school concept, including who funds what and how.
The Charter School Phenomenon
According to U.S. Charter Schools (www.uscharterschools.org/pub/uscs_docs/index.htm), charter schools are "innovative public schools providing choice for families and greater accountability for results." Self-governed, tuitionfree, and generally small in scale (the average enrollment in a charter school is 350 students, compared with 536 in traditional public schools), they are couched in a philosophy that seeks to move schools beyond the idea of reform, into the concept of creative and resourceful reimaging of public education, while exceeding student performance standards mandated by the state and federal governments. Forty of our 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have made legislative provision for charter schools. Since the first school opened in Minnesota in 1992, charter schools have mushroomed across the nation, with more than 3,000 charter schools educating approximately 700,000 students. And they continue to catch on. The New York Times reports that charter schools are growing in enrollment in excess of 20% per year.
Samsula Academy Media Center
While eligible for categorical funding and for funding by enrollment, charter schools cannot receive the capital dollars that fuel public school media centers. Nonetheless, the teachers, students, and parents of Samsula Academy wanted their media center back. Sherri Pierce was one of those parents. Mother to a high school international baccalaureate student, a middle schooler, and a second grader, she is passionate about the need for school media centers. "A good school media center adds an entirely new dimension to learning," she explained. "I can’t imagine a school functioning completely without one. I look at the things that my older children are achieving right now, and I can trace it back to the skills and lessons, the love of learning and reading, the independence in those areas that generated from their experiences in the school library."
She summed up the feelings of many parents in the school. They immediately began the long process of replacing resources through donations and book fairs. The school community compensated during the first year by using resources at the nearest public library branch, which is located 12 miles from campus, and by establishing extensive classroom libraries.
Last spring, the new school administrators called me and requested a meeting. "We need to know what we have to do to bring our media center back to life," they stated bluntly. "We want to return the media-based programs that used to be in place here. Our highest performing students need extra instruction and enrichment. We want to be a 21st-century school. Most of all, we need a media center, but we don’t know how to develop one. Will you help us?" What teacher could resist an invitation like that? As we wrapped our brains around the challenge—and potential—of establishing a media center from the ground up, we identified three areas of focus: the design of a multiple-purpose environment, thoughtful collection and development of appropriate resources, and the transformation of the former library media center into a collaborative, community-centered learning space.
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