Mrs. Caprio's sixth-grade class from St. Joseph's Elementary School poses for a picture at the Richmond Memorial Library -- with Teen Services Librarian Paula Haven hiding out in the back (far left).
Richmond and St. Joe's partnership started several years ago with Library Director Diana Wyrwa's visit to the school, where she spoke to the faculty about library services and extended an invitation to all grades.
"The library is such a treasure," Caprio said. "And it's right by our school, so why not take advantage of it? It's especially helpful as a supplement to (St. Joe's) library, which is kind of small."
St. Joe's 6th-graders started to visit the library last year under the supervision of Nicole Tamfer. That group was, in Haven's words, "very independent." They only came every other week or so, then mainly just to look for books.
Wanting to see the sixth-grade library experience continue, Caprio contacted Haven about bringing her class over on a weekly basis for an ongoing library orientation program.
Last September, this program was pretty much the same as its predecessor: the kids came to familiarize themselves with where different types of books were and…well, to look for books. Caprio and Haven quickly learned that if this was going to succeed on a weekly basis, certain changes were going to have to be made.
"We found that even at this age, young people need more structure," Caprio said.
This is where Haven had to put on her thinking cap. Capitalizing on her field of expertise, she started them off with library skills -- but with a little twist.
"I would go through the Teen Corner shelves and take books out of place," Haven said, "and then ask the students to spot them and put them back where they belong."
Moving away from the shelves to the Teen Corner tables, the group then started doing Reader's Theatre, which helped establish familiarity between "Miss Paula" (as the kids call her) and her new once-a-week class.
Reader's Theatre was followed up with genre studies, where the kids learned about the different types of fiction and then tried their hands at writing their own stories within each genre. From there, they have since graduated to creating their own graphic novels, which they spent Friday's session illustrating.
That, in a nutshell, is the history of the Haven/Caprio brainchild thus far. With roots in Wyrwa’s efforts to bring students to the library, it has taken on a life of its own and evolved accordingly. Haven and Caprio plan on continuing the program next year and building on what they’ve already done.
So what did everybody get out of this thing?
The planning and instruction involved in the program have taught Haven a lot about what teachers do on a daily basis.
"I've really gotten to experience firsthand the challenge of keeping the students focused," she said. "We’re talking about a situation where you only have a half hour, and you really have to keep things interesting for them."
Having never taught before, Haven found this to be as much of a learning experience for her as for the students. She attributes her overall success to the support she received from Caprio – who gave her complete freedom when it came to program planning but remained on hand to help her when necessary – and to the cooperativeness and enthusiasm of the kids.
“They’ve done very well this year,” Haven said. “They’ve participated with enthusiasm, they’ve been pleasant, and you can see them put effort into their work. They surprised me every week by their openness and enthusiasm.”
One thing that Haven and Caprio both agree on is that it’s nice to see these young people experience the library as an enjoyable place to be.
“I love seeing video-age teens connect to the library. I like that you can start with their interests (many students incorporated popular culture references like Michael Jackson and McDonald’s into their fictional works) and then help them segue into being lifelong readers.”
Caprio’s class members were asked to share their thoughts/feelings about the program via written responses. They submitted the following comments to The Batavian:
"I like when we got to write our own paragraph/story. I didn't know a book goes backwards (referring to anime graphic novels, which are formatted according to the Japanese style of writing back-to-front)."
"I like how we got to read short stories about different genres and learn about them. Also I like how we got to write our own paragraphs on the genre we were learning about. I would recommend it for other classes because it is a great chance to learn about how different books are made. I think Miss Paula is a very good teacher and is very open about a lot of things. Also Miss Paula is very nice."
"I had a really good time doing all the great activities. I look forward to it every week and it really brightens up my day. I would definitely recommend this program to other classes. It was very enjoyable. It has also really helped me on essays. I have learned how to improve my sentence fluency and raised my grades, too! Miss Paula was very nice. She was always in a good mood! She was patient and helped us when we were stuck."
"I would definitely recommend the program to other classes because going to the library is fun. It gives you a break from school as well as having some educational values. We've recently been learning about different genres of books. Some include: horror, fairy tale, and science fiction. Everyone is nice to you at the library including Miss Paula. Everyone really enjoys the library!"
"I like making our own cartoons."
"The experience was fun because we were able to write our own stories and learned a new story genre each week. I found out also that graphic novels can start from the back of the book so there was a bit of education."
"I liked the library program. I didn't know that much about genres, but now I know a lot about them. I thought we would just look at books, but we actually learn a lot. I have learned that graphic novels start from the back. But now we are drawing our own graphic novels, it is cool! Miss Paula is very nice and patient. She lets us do fun stuff. I do recommend this program to other classes. I know they will have a load of fun!"
"We talk a lot about different elements of reading like horror and comedy."
"One thing I liked about this is making up our own stories. For example, when we learned about science fiction, we had to write our own science fiction story. I would recommend this to other schools because it helps students tell what type of genre a story is. Miss Paula is open and explains things pretty well."
"What I like is that we read a story and talk about the elements. (When asked if the class had any educational value): I can express myself from time to time."
"I like going to the library. Miss Paula is cool. She knows where the books are when I ask. I like (the program) and I want to keep going."
"At first I thought that we would just be looking at books. Then I found out that we would be learning a lot about literature. I liked that a lot. I would recommend it to other classes because kids can learn more about literature than they do in English class. I learned more about books every week. Also, I got to learn more kinds (a.k.a. genres) of books. Miss Paula let us talk freely. She was a good teacher."
"I liked making our own stories."
"I liked learning about how the story originated and writing our own stories. I would recommend it to future kids because it will help them learn about stories. Miss Paula is a nice librarian."
"I think Ms. Paula is very nice and knows what we need to learn/should know. She has a lot of interesting topics. I would recommend it for other classes because it is fun and you learn at the same time."
"I enjoyed going to the library every week and learning about the different genres. Miss Paula was very nice and always had something ready for us to learn about."
Grant B. (a.k.a. "That Kid")
"It's fun when we write our own stories. We get to express ourselves. All kids would probably like it. It had a little educational value because we learned all the different parts of a book/story."
"I liked the fact that we were able to look for books at the beginning."
"I think that the best part of this is drawing cartoons! Miss Paula was verry nice!!! Would I recommend (the program)? Well, yes! P.S. – I love The Batavian!”
(I promise I did not make that last part up).