Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

View from Behind the Lens: Advanced Photography for Teens, a Guest Post by Lynette Pitrak

makerspaceIn the fall and winter of 2014, I had an amazing experience coordinating a filmmaking workshop for high school students called View from the Director’s Chair.  To highlight a different aspect of our library’s Media Lab this year, our IT Department Manager and I created a similarly-structured workshop called View from Behind the Lens.

View from Behind the Lens began October 21st, and will continue through December 16th.  We were lucky enough to hire Downers Grove-based photographer Mike Taylor, a professional photographer and college professor, as our instructor for this program series.  Along with Mike, our library’s IT Assistant Jason, myself, and eight teenagers in middle school and high school meet weekly to learn advanced photography skills!!  

teens pose with tripods near a monument

View from Behind the Lens Halloween Photo Shoot

We are now several weeks into this workshop, and have learned a lot about digital photography techniques!!  The students in class are working with a combination of Canon and Nikon cameras (and everyone is VERY loyal to their chosen brand! :)).  We have gone over the basic settings of the cameras, including f-stop, aperture, and white balance. Mike has also discussed various kinds of photography with the students, such as stop-action, motion-blur, infrared, and night photography, and how to use the lenses and settings to achieve the desired effects.  To put this instruction to work, the students have gone on in-class walking tours through Downers Grove.  We have done daytime landscape shoots, portraiture, an architectural shoot, and a fun night shoot in the cemetery to celebrate Halloween!

girls pose for portraits in funny wigs

View from Behind the Lens Portraiture Shoot

In one week, we will be taking a field trip to the Museum of Contemporary Photography to take a docent-lead tour of a special photography exhibit.  Because the museum is staffed by volunteers from Columbia College’s photography program, the View from Behind the Lens students will have the opportunity to talk about what it is like to major in photography.  

In the last weeks of class, students will learn how to edit their photographs with Lightroom and Photoshop.  Then, they will have a month to shoot on their own, to prepare final photographs for a gallery show and Meet the Artists event on February 28, 2016!!!

 

 

Lynette Pitrak is the  Teen Services Coordinator at the Downers Grove Public Library in Downers Grove, Illinois.

Saying goodbye to a successful program

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolLast month I hosted another Career Conversation event at my library. I really enjoy these evenings. I’ve learned interesting things at every single one of them, even when the jobs that the panelists hold are nothing like the kind of work that suits me. The same has seemed to be true of the teens who attended. Those who came to the events because the topic (Politics, Arts, Engineering, Education, Sports, Health Care) is something that they want to pursue got practical advice and information. Those who came because their friends were interested still learned and were entertained. There’s nothing quite like listening to people who are passionate about their work share their love and encouragement with teens.

So it is with mixed feelings that I decided that November’s panel on careers in the Sports world would be our last. The series ran for a full year, and there wasn’t a stinker in the bunch. So why would I pull the plug on a good thing? Several factors come into play. And while I’ll miss hearing about the varied life experiences our panelists offered and we haven’t covered all of the areas of work that our teens are interested in, I feel confident that this is the right choice. Why?

  • The planning and coordinating of the event had become unwieldy.

I ran this event every other month, which means that before one panel had happened, I was already contacting panelists to come to the next one. Schedule-wise, this was difficult and time consuming but not out of the ordinary for programs. What made the planning of this really stressful though, was that I’d begin seating the panel by contacting my top four or five hopefuls. And then I’d wait. And sometimes then I’d wait more. And more. And then I’d contact another few people. And wait. And wait. And by the time I was a week or two ahead of the event, I’d still sometimes be scrambling to find one last person, or replace someone who had an unexpected schedule conflict. Working with one presenter poses some difficulties. Working with unpaid presenters poses others. Working with four or five unpaid presenters? Well, you can imagine the stress involved. This is not to say that anyone I worked with was difficult! It was just the process and the worry and the unending schedule coordination that really started wearing on me.

  • I had limited support in recruiting attendees.

Sometimes, the panel had a clear audience with community and school partners who were happy to promote it. For example, when we hosted engineers, I contacted the high school’s GEMS club and the word spread like wildfire. For others, like our event focused on politics and political science, there wasn’t as clear a link between school organizations who would promote the event. And our education panel – which I thought would fill to capacity – had the lowest attendance of all. After the fact, several regulars commented that they “already know what teachers do all day*,” so they figured the panel wouldn’t be useful. I’m not averse to running programs for the same core group of teens–there are lots of benefits that aren’t just numbers based. But in this instance, given the amount of adult involvement and goodwill from community members I was dependent on, I felt it needed to pull a wider audience to continue.

  • There’s a better way to do it.

It occurred to me that part of the hurdle in getting teens to come to an event like this is the social nature of teen programs. Would the teen who wants to go into archeology come to an event on engineering just because her friend was? Maybe, but more likely than not, she’d find other ways to occupy her time. But what if this event got bigger so that it could encompass the future archeologist and her engineer-hopeful friend, and their buddy who has no idea what to do after high school? I’m hoping that after a bit of a hiatus, I’ll be able to bring Career Conversations back, more in the spirit of a job speed dating event. This would bring groups of teens together, and would allow for one (albeit large and probably unwieldy) planning season. It would also be less dependent on individual presenters as I’d hope to bring in a lot of different folks who love their work and want to share about it. It could also serve as a community bridge building event by inviting the local community college and trade schools to be present.

  • The teens who originated the series were ready for new challenges.

This was a teen-generated program idea. Last year’s Teen Board came up with the idea and the first few topics, and had been a help in recruiting participants. This year, several of our movers and shakers have graduated and the new group of teens is interested in other events and programs. And this is what it all boils down to: programming by teens is going to change as teens change, and we have to be open to that and willing to change course. Even when by outward appearances, it’s all going well.

*

Brad Pitt laughing

Right?!

Career Conversations – What I learned when my teens wanted to host a program series on careers

Career Conversations posterThis year I undertook a challenge: an ongoing program series designed by my teen board, reliant on the generosity of adults in the surrounding community, not especially fun, on my night off. This became Career Conversations, and we had our fourth and final program last night. Overall, it was a smashing success. Here’s what I’ve learned this year in taking this leap.

High school students just won’t register ahead of time.

Wouldn’t it be great if they did? Wouldn’t it make our lives so much less anxiety ridden? Yeah. It would be so nice. But they just don’t. I think it’s partly because they are so bleeping busy that they genuinely do not know that they’ll have time to attend a non-essential event, and partly because they just don’t think about it the way the parent who registers younger kids and tweens for programs does. They assume that the program will happen with or without them, and that’s the kicker. Last night’s program would have been the fifth of its type, but I panicked and pulled the plug at the last minute when no one had registered. When I told my teen board that it was cancelled, several teens said that they had been planning to come…. but just didn’t register. Every night as my panelists arrived, I had a sinking fear in the pit of my stomach, waiting for teens to trickle in. And they did. Every time. Phew.

Learning about other people’s jobs is so interesting!

I would run this program every week, just to sit and hear people talk about what they do. This year, we heard from an engineer who worked in health care, a doctor who followed his wife into his career path, someone who worked for a political campaign that changed her life, a stay at home dad who started his own business so he could be his own boss, an author whose passion is helping victims of sexual violence, and an art historian who has unwittingly become an expert in the best – and worst – truck stops in the midwest. “What kind of work do you do?” is a cocktail party question, but beyond hearing “I’m an engineer, a librarian, a stay at home mom, a volunteer…” what do we really learn about people? This panel conversation setup allowed people to really get to the heart of why they love what they do, what brings them satisfaction, and what challenges they face.

Each profession definitely has a different tone

The engineers were surprisingly funny, and engaged in a fair amount of competitive, good natured ribbing between themselves. The health professionals left no doubt about the weight they bear in being responsible for people’s lives. The politically connected folks had long answers and carefully measured every word that they spoke. The creatives talked to each other a lot, and focused the most on finding fulfillment and personal satisfaction in their work. A number of teens attended all four panels, and I’m so glad that they were able to see this diversity. After last night’s panel on arts & entertainment careers, a teen thanked the panel at the end by saying, “I don’t plan to go into your field at all, but this was definitely the most interesting conversation and I learned so much from it!”

Life is long and the path isn’t always straight

This is something that I think teens don’t hear so often, and I wish they did. Sure, some people knew from a young age that they were going to be doctors and then became doctors, and I can certainly admire their dedication and focus. But I definitely appreciated the panelists who talked about trying things and finding out that they hated them and changed direction, those who worked two jobs to do what they really had a passion for, and even last night’s graphic designer and screenprinter who talked about getting kicked out of high school at 15 then moving to the US with a backpack, $100, and one friend on this continent. There are as many ways to make a life as there are people on earth, and teens need to understand that they are the ones ultimately in control of the path they follow.

Following the teens’ lead was so worth it, but I needed their support to do it.

Several years ago, I stopped trying to program “just for fun” types of events for high schoolers and shifted to things that were more useful: learn to caddy, summer volunteering, getting a teen liaison on the Board. I’ve tried to do some jobs workshops or resume review events before, but with a huge and well funded high school in our community with a counseling department that can far outpace me, they never flew. But partly they didn’t fly because I clipped their wings. Fearing failure, I would cancel the programs if I didn’t get a response. Career Conversations worked in part because I pushed on despite the fear. But it would not have worked it all without the buy in and support of my teen board. They promoted it to their friends, they showed up even when the topic wasn’t in line with their interests, and they gave suggestions for future panel topics. And this worked, I got their buy in and support, not because of something I did, but because of something I didn’t do. I didn’t butt in. I didn’t tell them it wouldn’t work. I didn’t redirect them when I thought “been there, done that, didn’t work.” I let them lead, and it made for one of the most terrifying and most successful things I did this year.

Career Conversations, programming for older teens

What do older teens want out of library programing? Communities differ, but in my area, with teens in a highly demanding school loaded with AP courses and ample, high quality after school activity options, the library’s offerings have tough competition for teens’ precious after school time. The strategy here is not to attempt competing with school and other activities at all, but to compliment them.

Career Conversations attempts to bridge teens from the excellent guidance department they have access to at school to something a little looser, something a little more connected to the real world. This is not a Teen Program in a Box, because a lot of the work is going to fall on your shoulders, and those of your teen board. But for the legwork it takes, it is inexpensive (free, even), useful, and fairly simple.

Career Conversations is a series of panel discussions, each focusing on a different type of work. What’s it really like to be an engineer? What does that even mean anymore? What’s your life like as a family doctor as opposed to a surgeon? How would I know which specialization to choose? The only real way to know is to talk to people who do these jobs.

 

Tips for starting your own Career Conversation series

  • Whenever possible, work in concert with local guidance offices. Find out what they are offering and plan your events to compliment them. Send flyers to them and ask for their help in promoting your events. If your local schools offer any clubs or activities that relate to the panel, include them in the planning and promotion.
  • When choosing a theme, think about career types that teens can relate to. My panel on engineering careers was a great hit, but we canceled the one on nonprofit sector careers due to lack of interest. I don’t think this means that our teens are disinterested in nonprofit work, rather they don’t have a solid touchpoint to make sense of what that phrase means in their lives. It would have been better titled something like “Careers that save the world” or “Working for the greater good” or something like that.
  • Use your Teen Board, teenaged library employees, the teen liaison to the library board, and any other “key teen informants” to spread the word. Whereas most of our younger patrons hear about programs from their parents, older teen program attendance can thrive or die on word of mouth promotion.
  • Strive for diversity on your panel. If everyone you know who works in healthcare is a middle aged woman in a family practice doctor’s office, move away from who you know and find people who represent a wider diversity in both work and demographic.
  • Contact your local Chamber of Commerce to find speakers from different professions. This can help to build connections in your local community as well.
  • Keep any professional organizations in mind too. Folks that are active in promoting their profession through professional organizations are great resources for promoting their work to teens as well. Some organizations, such as the Society of Women Engineers, even has a high school outreach branch.
  • Feed them. Offer light refreshments as a way to encourage mingling and chatting either before or after the panel conversation. Rather than the “if you feed them they will come” premise, here refreshments works as a social lubricant – giving teens something to do while networking. For my event, I had cut veggies, hummus, a platter of grapes, and lemonade. It can be simple.
  • Ask for teens to contribute questions. If you have a feedback wall or comment box in your teen area, use this as a way to draw questions from teens.
  • Encourage a conversation among the panelists. I found that people who do similar work in different ways enjoy discussing the commonalities, even in spite of their differences.

Have you hosted similar programs? Share tips and cautions in the comments!

-Heather

Teens and Poverty: PBS Newshour Discusses Being Homeless and Trying to Graduate High School

As I thought about writing my post earlier today about teachers, I couldn’t help but think of my 4th grade teacher. I remember her name, I remember what she looked like, and I remember the intense hatred I had for her. You see, in the 4th grade my parents separated and divorced. We went from being a doing okay two-income family living in a house in the suburbs to living in two struggling very much separate apartments. Suddenly, I qualified for free and reduced lunch. I remember the burning shame each day in the cafeteria line and how you would pray that the lunch ladies would be quiet and keep it all on the down low so the other students wouldn’t know. Being labelled poor is like being forced to wear a scarlet A.

And I remember being at a parent-teacher conference where the teacher told my parents that I had no friends and she told them (this is not a joke), that they needed to buy me a pair of Jordache jeans so maybe I could fit in. We couldn’t buy me lunch, how was this even reasonable advice?

I eventually became friends with a girl whose family lived in a week-to-week low-cost hotel in a very dangerous neighborhood; one night her family simply disappeared as they moved on to another place. I was always aware that they were just one step away from the edge of what it meant to be homeless. It’s been more than 30 years and I wonder every day whatever happened to her. Life had already been so unkind to her, I hope that her family was able to turn their situation around at some point.

According to Do Something, there are 1.7 homeless teens in the U.S. 39% of the homeless population in the U.S. is under the age of 18. In addition to poverty, teens are often homeless because of abuse or because of rejection (or abuse) from their family because they come out as GLBTQ. In fact, 40% of homeless youth are homeless because of their GLBTQ status (Do Something).

And many more families are just one job less, medical crisis or other emergency away from losing it all. In many homes parents are working sometimes two and three part-time jobs trying to make ends meet while older siblings are asked to make dinner, help with homework and put younger siblings to bed at night.

As part of our ongoing focus on TEENS AND POVERTY, I encourage you to head over to the PBS Newshour for a special report on what Los Angeles is doing to help homeless teens complete high school. While reports come in offer other areas putting up “anti-homeless spikes” – and yes, this is apparently a real thing – other people are investing that money in trying to help people succeed. There are very real effects to children and teens living and growing up in poverty: it affects physical health, it affects mental health, it affects school success, and it affects the future. Not just THEIR future, but all of our future. Helping children and teen succeed makes the world better for us all.

Recently at one of my teen programs, a group of high school students were talking and someone mentioned a boy not at the program. One of the teens present said, “Yeah, he’s okay but man his teeth are jacked up. It’s like he doesn’t even brush them or anything. It’s gross.” And I mentioned to this teen that maybe his family didn’t have the money to take him to the dentist. It got real quiet and this teen remarked, “You know, he doesn’t seem to have a lot of stuff. Like, I don’t see him wearing a lot of different clothes like everyone else. Maybe he is, maybe he can’t go to the dentist.” I don’t know if this was the case or not, but I thought it was important that they take a moment to think of all of the various scenarios as to what may be going on for this young man. Far too often those that know nothing about living in poverty have blinders on to it around them. Whether that boy was living in poverty or not, there are students all around them that are.

Additional Resources:
National Coalition for the Homeless Youth Fact Sheet
Record Number of Homeless Students in the US in 2013
National Alliance to End Homelessness: Youth

Teens and Poverty Series at TLT:
Can We All Just Stop Saying the Internet Is Free Now Please? 
Rich Teen, Poor Teen: Books that depict teens living in poverty 
Working with youth who live in poverty  
Sunday Reflections: This is what losing everything looks like 
Sunday Reflections: Going to bed hungry
Sunday Reflections: A tale of two libraries 
Sunday Reflections: Poverty doesn’t always look the way you think it does
Sunday Reflections: All I Want for Christmas is the Chance to Go to College
Feeding Teens at the Library: Summer and Afterschool Meals
The Economy as Villain in The Year of Shadows by Claire LeGrand
Book Review: PANIC by Lauren Oliver
Book Review: HUNGRY by H. A. Swain

Booklists:
Barnes and Noble: Homelessness and Runaways
The Homeless Experience in YA Literature
Library Thing: Homeless Persons Fiction

About the Books You See in this Post

Tyrell by Coe Booth:

“Tyrell is a young, African American teen who can’t get a break. He’s living (for now) with his spaced-out mother and little brother in a homeless shelter. His father’s in jail. His girlfriend supports him, but he doesn’t feel good enough for her – and seems to be always on the verge of doing the wrong thing around her. There’s another girl at the homeless shelter who is also after him, although the desires there are complicated. Tyrell feels he needs to score some money to make things better. Will he end up following in his father’s footsteps?” (Scholastic, 2006. ISBN: 9780439838795)

Can’t Get There From Here by Todd Strasser:

“Her street name is Maybe. She lives with a tribe of homeless teens — runaways and throwaways, kids who have no place to go other than the cold city streets, and no family except for one another. Abused, abandoned, and forgotten, they struggle against the cold, hunger, and constant danger.”  (Simon Pulse, 2005. ISBN: 9780689841705)

See also the new title from Todd Strasser: No Place

Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

“Pattyn Von Stratten’s father is dead, and Pattyn is on the run. After far too many years of abuse at the hands of her father, and after the tragic loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn is desperate for peace. Only her sister Jackie knows what happened that night, but she is stuck at home with their mother, who clings to normalcy by allowing the truth to be covered up by their domineering community leaders. Her father might be finally gone, but without Pattyn, Jackie is desperately isolated. Alone and in disguise, Pattyn starts a new life, but is it even possible to rebuild a life when everything you’ve known has burned to ash and lies seem far safer than the truth?” (Margaret K. Elderberry Books, 2013. ISBN: 9781416983286)

You’re graduating high school, now what?

I stayed up all night last night reading an ARC of GLORY O’BRIEN’S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE by A. S. King (dear lord people, so much glorious goodness coming this fall – make a note to read it!). This book is many amazing things, but it perfectly captures that moment when you graduate from high school and realize you have to figure out what comes next. For a lot of teens, the what next is college. For some, like Glory, it is a gap year. For others, it is straight to work.

Yesterday we talked about high school, but here are a couple of books from Zest Books that can help us all with the moments that come after high school.

77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish College by Halley Bondy

I’m not going to lie, my favorite item in this book was number 23: Spend quality time in the library . . . without doing homework. I was lucky enough to go to college in a town with two colleges, and the other college – Kenyon College – had the most amazing bookstore ever. We used to go all the time and hang out there; you would find wondrous things that you never knew existed. If you ever find yourself in Mount Vernon Ohio, go there. Even if you are kinda maybe a little bit close, drive in for a visit.

Some other good tips include taking a class that has nothing to do with your major, learn a language you’ve never studied, try a sport you’ve never tried (intramurals can be a good way to do this), and join an a capella group (or at least watch the movie Pitch Perfect and do this vicariously). And as an aside, many of these will apply to those who choose an alternate, non-college plan after high school. You can even find alternate ways to do some of the education related ones – like study a language or take a class outside of your major – by using your local library resources or taking a local community class.
Undecided: Navigating Life and Learning After High School by Genevieve Morgan
The truth is, most of us don’t have our lives figured out when we graduate high school. I changed majors mid-stream and have a whole extra year of credits (and debt!) to show for it. Want to know what’s even better? I have an undergraduate degree in youth ministry that I basically don’t use (although I will admit the info was very informative to being a YA librarian). And college isn’t the right choice for everyone. And sadly, for many teens, it isn’t really an option at all.Undecided is a pretty good look at the many options that one has after high school, including not only higher education but military services and internships. There is a brief section on gap years (I just like saying gap years because I only learned they were called that last year – in a YA book no less!). Undecided also acknowledges the issue of money and has a chapter dedicated to budgets and planning. I really liked that this section talked about debt and acknowledged that anything they said in the book might already be irrelevant because the conversation kept changing so quickly: “Media reports regularly address what is going on with student loan debt, and things are changing so fast that what I tell you today probably will be out of date tomorrow” (page 68).  But the reality is, “Many college students and grads (even not-so-recent grads) are shackled by debt and the inability to get a job with a high enough salary to pay off that debt” (page 69). I thought the end advice was very spot on: “Take on as little debt as possible to pay for your education – even if this means needing more time to get your degree and working. Or going to a state school instead of a private college. If you do get a loan, read your contract carefully” (page 70).

So while I thought 77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish College was fun and even insightful, I found Undecided to be a very important and helpful tool. Of course one is aimed more at high school students who are trying to figure out what comes after high school and the other is aimed at students who are past that point and are already in college.  They both meet their stated goals and are good resources.

77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish High School by Halley Bondy. Zest Books, 2014. 191 pages. ISBN: 978-1-936976-00-3.

Undecided: Navigating Life and Learning After High School by Genevieve Morgan. Zest Books, 2014. 247 pages. ISBN: 978-1-93676-32-4.

Take 5: Your High School Survival Pack

Some people are busy preparing to survive the zombie apocalypse, but the truth is there is something much harder that we all have to survive – High School!

Don’t get me wrong, there were some awesome things about high school. Friday night football games are fun. First love is fun (and terrifying). Watching scary movies with friends, also fun. But I would definitely not want to go back and do it again. Nope, not at all.

So here are some tools to help you – or someone you love – survive high school. While preppers are busy hoarding food and building underground tunnels, all you need is to throw a few good books in your survival pack. And I know just the books . . .


Real teens share their high school stories and survival tips. Been There is divided into 3 sections: Social advice, Academic advice, and Practical advice.  This is a very practical guide for not only your Freshman year, but just your middle school and high school years in general as only some of the advice would specific to your Freshman year.  The advice is real, and you can tell it is written by real teens.  What’s the number 1 thing not to do while making new friends? Fart of course.  And yet there is some real honest, raw and heartfelt advice given here: For instance, it can be really disorienting when your best friend since 3rd grade starts eating lunch somewhere else . . . But your friend’s behavior probably has very little to do with you.  Maybe he’s wanting to expand his own circle of friends. . . Friends come and go, and losing and gaining friends is all part of the experience of growing up and . . . surviving high school (page 18).

Forget the Oxford English Dictionary, THIS is the dictionary you need. From acne to varsity, this mock dictionary provides you with humor and insight into high school life. Want an example, look at this entry for GPA:

I get parents coming in a lot and asking for books to help their kids learn how to study. We talk about studying, but we don’t often really teach kids/teens HOW to do it. This is a really informative guide that helps you get organized, learn techniques, and discusses things like how to take notes and understanding your teachers expectation. At 135 pages it tackles the topic without being exhaustive and overwhelming.

Every time my Tween opens her backpack I cringe and shudder, simultaneously. Papers are shoved inside, all wrinkled and chaos. Then she cries because she can’t find the paper she needed to tell her how to do her science project. She needs this book! Where’s My Stuff is an older title, but one of my favorites because it discusses things like organizing your backpack, organizing your school work, organizing your room and even organizing your time. A little organization can help you be so much more successful in school.

I am a complete sucker for a book of lists. They’re fun and browseable, and who doesn’t like to go through them and mentally check things off? This title is not only a fun list, but it gives a brief overview of some interesting topics like connecting with a role model and ending a argument. The items are divided into various categories including things to do for in each category. The categories are highlighted here with examples in parenthesis: Things to do for your personal development (attend a theater performance, develop the art of conversations, make a public speech), with or for friends (make a gift, start a book club, take a road trip), with or for family (record an oral history, make peace with a sibling, cook a three-course meal), for you body (establish an exercise routine, determine your blood type, study food labels, learn about safe sex), get to know the world around you (create a comic strip, design a t-shirt, write a real letter), to benefit your community and environment (volunteer, go green, understand how a farm works), because you should (write a resume, learn basic car maintenance, learn CPR) and, finally, because you’re only young once (confess a crush, build a bonfire, bury a time capsule).

Guess what? You can win this high school survival pack – for you, for your library, for someone you love. Just do the Rafflecopter thingy below for a variety of ways to enter. Open through the end of this week to U.S. residents.