Student Voice, Student Choice: Students as part of the budgeting process
This school year our district was rezoned. This resulted in over 200 kids leaving our school of only 400 students and about 300 new students arriving. Before the transition, there were many discussions that were held between teachers and administrators about how to help our new students and families feel welcome at our school. However, there were just some things that we couldn’t plan for that came to the surface at the beginning of the year.
One of the things that surfaced in the media center was a population of students, particularly students in 3rd-5th grades, who were coming to the media center and not finding anything that interested them. I saw it immediately. A student walked in, browsed the shelf, didn’t welcome help or seem interested in my suggestions, and left empty handed. My wheels began turning on what I could do to hook these students. After some conversation with teachers, I learned that this group of students were students in upper grades reading well below their grade level. My immediate “quick-fix” idea was just to order high interest/low level books, but I really didn’t feel like that was enough to get them excited about coming to the media center and interacting with me on a regular basis. I really wanted them to feel at home in the media center and become active participants in our space.
So….I wrote a grant to our district’s Foundation for Excellence and was awarded $1,000 for a project that I called Student Voice, Student Choice. I also chose to add a portion of book fair funds to this pool of money. Teachers identified students in grades 3-5 that were unmotivated to read and/or were reading below grade level. Test scores, lexiles, running records, and observations were used to identify students. In all, 45 students were identified. I met with these students by grade level during lunch and talked with them about their interests. They named things such as sports, comics, wrestling, and funny books. I also used this time to overview the project. Each student was given a budget of $45 to order books for the media center. Because these students were reading below level, I knew I wanted hi-lo books, so I focused on one company, Capstone Press. I emailed my local representative, Jim Boon, and shared the list of student interests with him. He agreed to bring in numerous samples of books for the students to look at.
At our second meeting, Jim arrived and filled racks with books separated by fiction and nonfiction. Before the book club students even arrived, other students were stopping to talk with him about the books on the racks and I started making mental and written notes. With the grant students, he talked about the differences in fiction and nonfiction and let them come up and pull books to sit and read. Students wrote down their top choices and circled them in a catalog. Jim was a huge help in this process. He made the experience fun, meaningful, and personal for both me and the students.
At our third meeting, students looked through Capstone catalogs that Jim provided to see if there were any other books that interested them more than the ones that he showed them. They began adding up their totals. Most students were able to order 2 books, but many used their money to pool with other students and order an additional title together.
Since that third meeting, the students from the project have been coming to the media center to check out other books and to talk with me about when they are going to get to come back to the media center for our club. They also ask me in the halls as we pass. I see an excitement in them that I didn’t see at the beginning of the year when they would come to the library and leave empty handed.
Now, the books have arrived after only 10 days of waiting! In the next few weeks, students will read the books, write reviews, and record podcasts to share with the rest of the school. Then, the books will become a part of the collection for everyone to read. My hunch is that these books will stay checked out most of the time because they will be “marketed” by students to students. I can’t wait to see what happens.
A few things I’ve learned from letting students be a part of the budgeting process:
- Student voice allows you to fill needs in your collection that you may never see on your own
- Student voice still fills areas of your collection that you would have worked on anyway. In fact, many of their choices updated sections of the collection that I keep putting off because of other priorities.
- Their voice creates a connection to the books and takes away part of the need to “sell” the books to the students
- Students are critical about what they choose and really work to spend their money wisely
- Students choose books that will most likely be popular with many other students besides themselves
- Collaborating with students and sales representatives helps create better matches for students and their reading interests and levels.
I’m hopeful that we will have some type of budgets to work with in the future, and I believe that I will strongly consider having students be a part of my budgeting process, reserving a percentage of the budget for a cross-section of students to have a voice in media center purchases. Their voice is important and needs to be heard and honored.
David C. Barrow Elementary