The students stop at the café to grab a cup of coffee before heading off to their next class.
Others flop down on beanbag chairs and study during free periods.
It all may sound like a scene from a college library or student union building, but it’s actually happening at Elizabeth Forward High School’s newly revamped library. The district hopes the new library, now known as the EF Media Center, becomes an attractive learning space for students that they can’t resist.
To make it more appealing, the district has added, in addition to the café, separate studios for video and audio recording, a small performance space, a bevy of various laptop and desktop computers, and other assorted features like flat-screen TVs, artwork and lighting improvements.
The library rebuild, which was carried out with a $165,000 grant from the Grable Foundation and about $15,000 in district funds, is based on a concept developed by Chicago Public Library called YOUMedia.
“We’ve been here a bunch,” said freshman Jake Barr, who dropped by the center with two friends on Wednesday between classes. The boys bought refreshments from the café and took a quick rest before heading to their next classes.
Freshman Anthony Abshier noted, “We come here for coffee and just to relax.”
Though no one in the trio had yet read any of the books housed in the library, the third member of the group, Shane Burkholtz, also a freshman, said he had borrowed laptops from the center to research school papers.
To some extent, the books along the library walls may seem a little overshadowed by all of the new furniture and high-tech gadgetry, but district officials believe if students are drawn to the library for its technological appeal, they eventually will find their way back to the books and reading.
Librarian Laura Ingram said some students already are coming in for the café, then making their way over to the bookshelves. She said students also come in to play old-fashioned board games like chess and checkers.
The media center opened on Dec. 1 after remodeling. Much of the potential of the two studios as yet remains untapped as district staff figures out how all of the equipment works and will fit into lesson plans.
A history teacher is planning to bring students into the video studio next week to work on subject-related programming, and this spring the high school plans to offer a music production program called Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K. at the center that teaches students how to record, produce and promote their own music.
There’s also been talk between WYEP-FM and district officials about having students create radio programming in the studio.
“We think this is a model kids want,” said Superintendent Bart Rocco, referring to the two studios. “It’s what the kids like. They’re on YouTube. They’re posting videos.”
There is hope that the media center will be incorporated into after-school and weekend activities. The high school also plans to use the studio for broadcasting morning announcements.
Students in the high school’s life skills program are working in the café, which is run by the district’s food service provider, Nutrition Inc.
High school principal Randy Sydeski said he and other educators are adjusting their own attitudes about learning.
“It’s an entirely new way of thinking about education,” said Sydeski, who noted that beanbag chairs and students sipping coffee didn’t immediately mesh with his own thoughts about structured learning environments.
“But you’ve got to embrace different learning styles,” he said, adding that the district is addressing various issues associated with having a café and library with a lounge-type atmosphere.
Assistant Superintendent Todd Keruskin describes the media center as a work in progress.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said, adding the district is committed to development of the center. Keruskin said studies show a correlation between high schools with well-used libraries and student achievement.
Rocco said many thanks must go out to the Grable Foundation for making the new library a reality. In recent years, the philanthropic organization has provided grant funding for the development of an Entertainment Technology Academy at the high school and a SMALLab Learning space at the middle school.
Both of those programs utilize computer gaming as a learning tool and require special facilities and equipment.
There will be a grand opening for the EF Media Center on Jan. 10 at 6 p.m.
Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or [email protected].