High schools transition to ‘media centers,’ ‘makers space’

Capac Schools’ Shannon Komoroski, Kari Bastian and Tami Zimmer have helped turn a portion of the High School’s Media Center into a space where Virtual students can study and collaborate. photo by Maria Brown.

TRI-CITY AREA — High school libraries aren’t what they used to be.

Wall to wall bookshelves have been pared down, the latest fiction titles have top billing over traditional reference material and collaboration—talking, building and sharing—means that space isn’t always quiet.

To be fair, transition isn’t especially new for these spaces. Many area schools began referring to their library-like spaces as “media centers” once they started carving out spaces for technology in their libraries, like computers. Today, both the volume of books and technology has changed and those library/media center spaces have taken on even more dynamic identities.

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Capac High School’s Media Center is full of activity on a given school day. Currently the space is shared between high school students and staff and the Capac Virtual Education Program. The library space has been modernized but still features lots of books and a variety of seating options. What had been a computer lab is now utilized by Virtual students who do some or all of their studies on the school campus. That space is adjacent to another Virtual program classroom.

The school requires fewer desktop computers since they’ve given laptops to students as part of their “one-to-one” device program.

The library underwent an overhaul this summer. Staff members sorted through the library’s existing collection and weeded out outdated titles. Bastian also decided to move the school’s collection of fiction books to the front of the library where they’d be more visible.

“Ninety percent of the books checked out are fiction so we wanted to make those books more accessible,” said Kari Bastian, media specialist and virtual program aide.

As part of the revamp, staff also brought in new, more comfortable seating along with two new charging stations that help keep everyone’s laptop operational, considering that the school gives all students their own device.

The library space is open to teachers who want to utilize it during class time or give their students a quiet place to work. Students are welcome to walk through the doors during their lunch hour too.

“They can come in here after they eat. It’s a nice quiet area where they can get away from the noise in the cafeteria,” Bastian said.

Students who take an online class can utilize the media center space along with those high schoolers taking part in the Blue Water Middle College during the “independent study” portion of their school day too, she added.

Student Edwin Weed said he appreciates the “more laid back environment” the media center space has now. More comfortable and flexible seating impresses fellow student Chris Maher.

The Virtual program area also has an array of unique seating options too including a coffee table with floor chairs.

“For some people it hurts to sit in a desk all day,” Virtual Education Specialist Tami Zimmer said.

Zimmer hopes they can eventually incorporate a makerspace where students can work on projects of all sizes.

“Being able to build things motivates a lot of my kids,” she said.

“Engagement is key. Behavioral issues decrease when they’re interested in something.”

Principal Nicole Kirby said she’s happy with what they’ve accomplished so far in that space.

“The vision I’ve had is to move us forward into a 21st century learning space, with flexible seating, charging stations for the students since we are a 1:1 device district, either painting or putting inspirational quotes on the walls, and to do this on an extremely limited budget. I feel we are well on our way to transforming the space but we are by no means done,” she said.

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At Imlay City High School, the Media Center’s transition is best described as a “slow roll out,” according to Principal Brian Eddy.

“Lots of people have an emotional attachment to it and to libraries in general.”

At the start of the 2018-19 school year, district leaders announced their intention to turn their Media Center into a “Maker Space” where students can do hands-on projects and collaborate with their peers in a setting that models contemporary work environments.

“It’s not a maker space quite yet but our hope is to grow it into that as resources become available,” he said.

Eddy notes the transition was also intended to get more general, every day use out of the space.

“The library has been underutilized and we wanted teachers and students to use it more,” he said.

Where rows of bookshelves used to stand are now groupings of tables and chairs, intended to help groups meet and collaborate.

Teachers and students utilize it when their classroom’s just too crowded for certain projects, administrators find it’s a great space for staff professional development sessions or when student groups need to meet. It’s also been ideal for showcasing artwork and hands-on assignments and hosting the occasional school board meeting.

In one corner a cozy reading nook has been created. There’s a rug on the floor, comfortable chairs and a bookshelf with titles that Eddy describes as “high impact, contemporary” books.

It’s also become headquarters of sorts for Imlay City’s robotics team, Spartronics.

They’re able to use the former library space to practice and set up targets. Several of the Media Center’s side rooms offer up work stations for teams within the team to collaborate.

“We have space for each part of our program now,” said teacher and team mentor Don Heeke.

Their programming team has a quiet spot to set up tables and a projector and the build team has been assigned to a sound-proof room where they can use drills and cutting saws without distracting others.

“In the larger areas of the media center we can do drive practices and fine tune our robot together,” Heeke said.

So where are the books? Many have been moved to the classroom. Eddy heads toward English teacher Angela Koss’s classroom just across the hall from the media center and, in the back of the room, one entire wall is filled with burgeoning book shelves and that scene is repeated in other classrooms in the school. Collections of classic titles, like the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, have a home in one of the spacious storage rooms adjacent to the media center. Everything’s organized by genre and reading level, making it easy for teachers to grab what they need as part of classroom assignments.

“There are still tons of literacy options, just not in the traditional library setting,” he said.