“Ashanti, don’t forget to smile,” Talecia urged her friend as a group of students stood across the table from them, clutching their carefully selected library books tightly. Talecia and Ashanti are two of the six new Peer Library Monitors at the primary school where I work.
Libraries and reading have always held a very special place in my heart. I have fond childhood memories of my grandmother reading me what must have been every Little House on the Prairie book in existence before bedtime. My mother used to haul me and my three younger brothers to the Napa County Public Library on Saturdays, where I’d stuff my canvas tote bag full to the brim with the maximum number of books – 14. Sometimes, I’d even beg my brother to add some of my books to his stack.
Flash forward 15 years. When I arrived at the school where I’d spend my Peace Corps service, I was impressed with the amount of books in the library in comparison with the schools I’d seen during pre-service training, but it became clear that the library would need some help. With only 5 teachers including the principal, the school was relying on the assistance of a community volunteer for the majority of the library operations. She and I worked together to make some very positive improvements over the last several months.
When our library volunteer found a job earlier this year, I was excited for her but worried for the future of our library. A culture of volunteerism is not commonplace in rural Jamaican communities, and we struggled to find any parents or community members to take her place.
Community development often means creatively repurposing what resources you already have available to you. What does any school with limited resources have? Students. Nuff ah dem.
One of my counterparts and I worked to develop a leadership program that enables Grade 6 students to learn about the library, understand how it works and to put their leadership skills into action. In exchange for getting good grades, having a positive attitude and a willingness to learn, Peer Library Monitors get to check out extra library books, assist the other students with choosing and checking out their books, and wear a special badge.
So far the program has effectively helped us keep the library in good working order, ensuring that students have regular access to it and reducing the pressure on the overextended teachers. It has also helped to provide a productive outlet for students to learn and mature while gaining leadership experience.
My teaching philosophy revolves around showing every student their self worth. Through the creation of leadership opportunities like the Peer Library Monitor program, we’re helping young people to realize what they’re capable of.