quot;In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find
themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.quot; --Eric Hoffer
In January 2006 when I first took over as Learning Specialist and manager of the Library/
Resource Center, I walked into a room that was largely unused, dark, with secluded
corridors and bookcases and shelves stuffed to bursting with outdated volumes. The only
students who used the library with any regularity were the Literacy Academy students,
and a few who enjoyed playing computer games at lunch. Teachers only brought a class
in to use the computers if the labs were booked. The library was mainly used as a place
to hold students for detention.
Northview High School’s campus is shaped like a wheel, and it is no coincidence that our
library is at the center. The library should be the hub of the school, the main resource on
campus for students to find information, technology, or career and college advice. For
teachers, the library should offer professional development resources, video and audio
materials to augment a lesson, ideas for research projects, and new books for
supplemental reading. Northview’s library was at a standstill.
Luckily, there were terrific publications out there that introduced me to the ways a library
could impact the school. My research helped me sketch a new vision of the library, and I
decided it should have three key components. First, it should be welcoming. Second, it
should have a professional atmosphere. Finally, the culture of the library needed to be
one that empowered students to learn how to help themselves.
With these three goals in mind, it was time to renew our library.
Before we could begin our transformation, we had to take care of quite a bit of prep
work. The first step required teachers to vote to restructure our schedule. Going from six
periods to seven meant 5 fewer instructional minutes per period, but gave teachers one
more prep period to form collaborative teams and begin creating Professional Learning
Communities. For students, the extra period allowed us to offer a Guided Study class for
those with lower than a C average, ensuring them at least one quiet hour in a supervised
environment to work on homework. For students with higher GPAs, the extra hour
opened up electives that met university requirements, or gave the option of a free period –
a reward for maintaining good grades and citizenship.
About 70 of those students opted to give up their free period and join us in the library as
peer tutors. But before we could use their help, we needed to evaluate and design a
system. I solicited the help of a senior student and computer whiz, Kyle Lowry, to help
me. Kyle had been our go-to guy on campus, helping teachers build websites, and even
coordinating a state-wide digital photography project called My So-Called Digital Life.
Kyle took scrupulous notes as I formulated my wish list for Intervention. I needed a
system that would create attendance rosters, track student progress, configure statistics,
notify counseling, offer accountability, and most importantly, be easy to use. Kyle spent
an entire summer designing Education Connect, a web-based system that allows teachers
to create an account and assign students by inputting their ID numbers. Education
Connect pulls student schedules from our attendance system, then creates rosters that tell
our tutors which Guided Study room to find their students, which teacher assigned them,
and the specific content area. Education Connect also generates statistics for us to track
student progress, an evaluation form for each student which the tutor fills our and returns
to the teacher, and a learning log for each student so he can reflect and monitor his own
participation and progress.
Goal 1: Make the Library Welcoming
With systems in place, we went to work on our first goal – making the library a
welcoming place. We began by convincing the district to use a colorful palate when re-
painting of the space. The bright, warm colors instantly added cheer and caught the
attention of teachers and students. We decorated with READ posters featuring student
leaders, made by students in our digital photography class. We weeded 3000 books,
allowed food in the library, brought in a second-hand leather couch, rearranged furniture,
and removed the obstructive bookcases. We played music chosen for us by the Band
director. We showcased the college and career center with display boards and posted
pictures of students who had received college acceptance letters. Mostly, though, we
gave ownership to the tutors.
Three weeks of training in instructional strategies, technology, conflict resolution and
communication skills were designed to emphasize that Intervention was not a punishment
– it was an opportunity. We impressed upon them that many of the students they would
be working with had never had anyone help them with their homework, and they may
initially face resistance. Gradually, though, through the hard work and the can-do
attitudes of this inaugural crew, we created an atmosphere that was fun, relaxed,
accepting and safe.
“My freshman year, I never came in here,” said Lauren Brady, a senior who tutors during
two of her free periods. “I didn’t want to be in here. It was empty. Now it’s all these
pretty colors. I like that our career center is in the library – it’s really convenient.”
Bruce Spikerman followed his friends into the library during his junior year, and enjoyed
the environment so much, he decided to try tutoring this year. “Teaching was fun,” he
said. “It looked challenging, like a fun thing to do.”
Senior Grace Schafer commented that when she was a sophomore, if she had told her
friends she was going to the library, she could have guessed their response would be,
“You’re going to the library? Are you kidding me?” But now, she said, “The library is
seen as more of a resource. It’s like a club mentality. It’s hands-on in here.”
Katherine Parga returned to tutoring for her senior year after a successful stint junior
year. “This was my favorite class,” she said. “It was the atmosphere in here, very
interactive, and you get to do interesting things. Most people in class are too shy to raise
their hands, but in here you get to work with them one on one and improve their grades.”
Katherine was so successful as a peer tutor, she was hired to work as an after school
tutor. And when she was having trouble helping with Algebra 2, she gave up her free
period to sit in on the class for a period to better understand. She will start at Whittier
College in September, 2008.
Her classmate, Breanna Keller, also returned to tutoring this year, and says the job is
easier now that students know what to expect. “It’s definitely improved,” she said. “This
year they’re not scared to ask for help. They come to hang out and socialize, but in the
right way – about school and homework.”
Goal 2: Create A Professional Atmosphere
Even though we offered a comfortable and welcoming environment, students were still
here to work. Through weekly collaborative meetings, the teachers and instructional
aides streamlined systems and constantly find ways to improve. As a group, we
supported each other as needed. It takes a great deal of organization to keep track of and
monitor as many as 200 students per week, 70 tutors, and the assignments (and answer
keys) from six or more teachers, in various content areas. Through strict adherence to
organized systems, we managed to stay on top of the chaos.
Problem-solving protocols helped us brainstorm solutions to unexpected glitches. For
instance, early in our first year tutors were meeting some resistance from unwilling
students. Some of the tutors were strong enough to stand up to difficult personalities,
others were not. They needed to enlist the help of a teacher, but were concerned about
appearing to be a tattle-tale or giving up their authority. We devised a code for them to
use – if they encountered a difficult situation and needed help, they could turn to another
tutor and say, “Please tell Mrs. Wolfe that I need red pens.” This was our signal that a
tutor needed help, and allowed me to discretely intervene without undermining the tutor’s
Tutors also soon realized that they were role models. “I was in intervention for math [last
year],” said Indira Castro, a tutor for the first time this year. “My tutor last year really
did help me. She always had her notes from the last year. I thought, that’s a really good
idea, to save your notes. I ended up getting a B.” Indira became a tutor so she could do
for someone else what her tutor had done for her.
Tony Guerro remembered coming to intervention as a junior and being tutored by a
sophomore. “I thought it would be better to have more seniors in here,” he said.
“Having a reputation as a peer tutor goes with you,” said Robert Williams. This second-
year tutor is also the catcher on the baseball team, the founder of the school’s Spirit Club,
and a two-time Rotary Club speech contest winner. “I know the district thinks highly of
it, and board members have talked about it. The kids do appreciate it, and the perception
of a lot of teachers is that they’re happy with it.” This year, Robert reminded us, our
math department recorded 100 fewer Fs than last year.
Senior Derek Limon has been coming to tutoring all year for help with his senior English
class. “What keeps me coming back? When Mrs. Jensen first had me come here I
thought it would be boring,” he admitted. “But I had all kinds of fun, and these people
knew what they were doing. It’s work, it’s involved, but it’s fun to do the work.”
Juan Maldonado, who often comes to the library on his own for help with Geometry,
agreed. “It’s fun to be in here,” he said. “I’m getting help, and my grades are better.”
Goal 3: Empower Students to Help Themselves
When Jacob Velasco started as a tutor in the fall of 2006, his California Standardized
Test scores showed he was performing at a Basic level in math. By the end of his junior
year, Jacob scored in the Highly Proficient range in math.
One of the most surprising benefits of tutoring has been the improvement of the tutors’
grades. Many say they have a better understanding of subjects they had taken years ago,
even if they had received good grades, because they had to explain it to someone else.
“Tutoring helped me prepare for the SAT because it helps you really remember,” said
Robert Williams. “I did well on the math section.”
“You learn the subject as well,” admitted junior Abraham Machuca. “It’s a change –
instead of you being taught, you’re the one teaching.”
Many of the tutors initially signed up to gain community service hours, but have been
able to use their experience on job applications. It has also provided inspiration for many
college essays, and best of all, spurred several students to tackle bigger leadership roles.
Erik Pena, a senior who hopes to study Criminal Justice in college next year, said
realizing that he could make a difference persuaded him to run for office in student
council and to start his own leadership club on campus. Also, for the students to see a
Northview graduate such as Kyle Lowry design and implement a program that is so
beneficial and professional shows students that their contributions can be valued, too.
Many of our tutors have confessed they now have a strong desire to pursue teaching as a
career. One of these, Jacob Velasco, has two part-time jobs after school – at a local
restaurant and as an after school tutor. He has put so much of his own time and energy
into tutoring that we asked him to serve as a student representative at our weekly
As a result of our efforts, traffic in our library has exploded. The library is always busy
and crowded. Clubs choose the library for their lunch meetings, and several tutors asked
to create a book club to help them complete their independent reading for their AP
classes. Now we’re considering having some of the book club members serve as a
student advisory board to the library, to offer input on new book selections and
When substitute teachers or other visitors come in, they are surprised by how crowded it
is and how many people are taking advantage of all the resources Northview has to offer.
Teachers know this library is a place to come for help, ideas, resources, and support. No
longer dark and deserted, the library is finally setting the culture of the school in motion
and helping students start on a new road to success.