For students to get the most of their school libraries, they first need to feel like they belong in those libraries. Unfortunately, that is not the reality for many youth of color. Research shows that school librarians want to make spaces more welcoming and instruction more meaningful for their students, but are unsure how to gain the cultural knowledge and awareness necessary to enact those changes.
That’s where Project READY (Reimagining Equity and Access for Diverse Youth) comes in. UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) Professor Sandra Hughes-Hassell and Teaching Assistant Professor Casey Rawson have been working with faculty members, researchers, and educators from SILS, North Carolina Central University, and the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) to design a professional development curriculum focused on culturally relevant pedagogy and equity literacy.
The project received funding from an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant in 2016. During the 2017-18 school year, the Project READY team worked with school librarians, literacy coaches, and classroom teachers from WCPSS to implement and evaluate an initial version of the curriculum. The partnership with WCPSS made such a positive impact, Project READY received the UNC-Chapel Hill Provost Engaged Scholarship Award.
“The amazing school librarians and teachers have embraced this work in ways we could never have imagined,” said Rawson. “One high school librarian decided that the people who knew the most about the equity needs within her school were the students themselves, so she helped create a student-led equity team that is now making critical decisions for their school. One group of elementary school students did an equity audit of their school’s playground, comparing it to other playgrounds in the area and making recommendations for change. A middle school librarian led her staff in a book study of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. We have been so inspired by stories like these, and we are excited to see where this project goes in the future.”
Project READY researchers are now using what they learned from the face-to-face sessions to refine the curriculum and convert it into an online professional development tool that will be distributed for free to libraries and school districts across the country.