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They arrive en masse on a late August afternoon; we recognize them, as soon as they set foot in our public libraries, by their worried, dazed expressions and the urgency with which they ask their questions, desperate for direction. They are the first-day Advanced Placement (AP) students who have just become aware of the pace and rigor of their AP classes.
The AP program has been an option for some high school students since the 1950s. First offered to college-bound, high-achieving students at wealthy schools, the classes and their testing program have expanded over the decades. In the past 10 years, a concerted effort by AP and its governing nonprofit, the College Board, has been implemented to extend the AP program to minority and less-resourced students. But how has this expansion impacted the libraries and librarians who serve these teens enrolled in college-level classes?
Westmont High School in Illinois has massively expanded its AP program in recent years. At this small public school, roughly a third of students are economically disadvantaged, and 82 percent of students take at least one AP test. From 2013–18, the number of students passing AP exams increased from 29 to 303, with the numbers of test-passers from historically disadvantaged backgrounds also dramatically increasing from 2 to 81. Teen services librarian Alyssa Johnson at the Westmont Public Library gets a lot of questions about test-prep materials, services, and study spaces. “I want to be sure students can ask questions or for help and walk away with the feeling that they got solid resources to access and information that will help them succeed. My go-to resources are from our digital subscriptions: BrainFuse, which has online tutors available for a variety of classes, and Learning Express, which provides access to test prep and software tutorials for all types of practice tests and skill improvement tests.”
Subscription services are also a go-to resource for Megan Aarant Jackson, Teen Services Coordinator at the Columbus Public Library of the Chatahoochee Valley Libraries. Her library serves a community with several high schools, a number of which are ranked highly for college readiness by U.S. News & World Report. As a component of the Muscogee County School District, the library and schools have formed partnerships over research projects and emphasize 1:1 appointments with library staff to help students work through their research needs—and they host lunchtime book clubs for fun. “Ideally, I see public libraries and librarians and their partner educators. As school library media specialists are becoming tech wranglers and the media center is becoming a testing facility, I would love to become a part of their school-year routine: visit classes for research boot camps, partner with teachers to see how we can leverage our STEAM kits into creative ways to present course content, find out where their gaps and needs are and see if we have the resources to help fill them.”
Grand Rapids, Michigan, is another community that has put energy—and resources—into building community partnerships to better serve older high-school students. Built into the Grand Rapids Public Library’s Main Library is the T2C Studio. The organization is the result of a partnership between public and private community entities. Together, the organizations have created a structure with the goal of getting more students to college and through college (T2C). Even during pandemic-related closures, staff were able to offer virtual consultations to help with test prep, International Baccalaureate (IB) coursework, research resources, and far beyond to FAFSA applications, integrating extracurriculars, and more types of college readiness. Shannon L. Harris, Interim Executive Director of parent organization Our Community’s Children, emphasizes the importance of community partnerships in order to best assist older teens as they manage these difficult years. “Partners are critical to ensuring systems and those closest to the work have shared language and a shared goal. It truly does take a village to do this work well and to do it consistently.”
A village-based approach and a holistic look at the lives and needs of older teens taking on college-level courses comes into clear focus through Leila Duncan’s perspective. The Student Support Librarian at the Pima County Public Library in Tucson pointed out that the students at the highest-achieving high schools in Tucson come to the library not seeking assistance with classes so much as “mental-health support and stress-reduction resources, such as yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, and wellness.” For librarians unsure of where to go beyond test prep and study guides, Johnson in Westmont suggests going back to basics. “I always end with, ‘Is there anything you are looking for that you can’t seem to find at the library?’” This has given me great feedback to find out what the students in my area are really looking for in terms of resources and support.”
As we strive to meet the needs of our older teen patrons, soothing the nerves of those struggling AP students with research material is the tip of the iceberg. By delving beneath the surface we can expand our thinking on what it really means to support them as students, library users, and whole people.
Resources For Class Support Access Video On Demand Bloom’s Literature Brainfuse Credo Reference Learning Express LibraryMango Languages Playaway Launchpad Tablets—SAT Math and SAT English Books for Mental-Health Support Be You, Only Better: Real-Life Self-Care for Young Adults. By Kristi Hugstad. 2021. 224p. New World Library (9781608687381). Gr. 7–11. 613. Channel Kindness: Stories of Kindness and Community. By Lady Gaga and Born This Way Foundation Reporters. 2020. 304p. Feiwel and Friends (9781250245588). Gr. 8–12. 177.How to Like Yourself: A Teen’s Guide to Quieting Your Inner Critic and Building Lasting Self-Esteem. By Cheryl M. Bradshaw. 2016. 216p. New Harbinger (9781626253483). Gr. 9–12. 155.5.Make the Grade: Everything You Need to Study Better, Stress Less, and Succeed in School. By Lesley Schwartz Martin. 2013. 144p. Zest (9781936976386). Gr. 7–12. 155.5.Stuff That Sucks: A Teen’s Guide to Accepting What You Can’t Change and Committing to What You Can. By Ben Sedley. 2017. 96p. New Harbinger (9781626258655). Gr. 7–12. 155.5.Surviving the Emotional Roller Coaster: DBT Skills to Help Teens Manage Emotions. By Sheri Van Dijk. 2016. 224p. New Harbinger (9781626252400). Gr. 9–12. 155.5.Your Brain Needs a Hug: Life, Love, Mental Health, and Sandwiches. By Rae Earl. 2019. 288p. Macmillan/Imprint (9781250307859). Gr. 8–12. 616.8.
Heather Booth is a Booklist editor and teen services librarian.
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