Bell Center students hit the books with new library

The new library at Anoka-Hennepin School District 11’s Compass programs at Bell Center has students excited to hit the books.

“I think having a school library is good because we get to read books that are not school related,” said Ricky, an eighth-grade student.

“The Compass library has a lot of books that kids want to read.”

“I think having a school library is a great thing to have at Compass programs,” said Alex, an eighth-grade student.

“When we didn’t have a library we had to read our teachers’ books, but they didn’t have the books I like. The library has books I like.”

“I think it’s good to have a library now because we can read a book instead of doing something disruptive or falling asleep,” said Kyle, an eighth-grade student. “And it’s also just good to read sometimes.”

Compass staff, left to right, Jackie Nisporic, Linda Schiesl, Jamie Vigness, Devon Johnson, and Liz Christie check out the program’s new library.

The library was made possible through federal Title funds that became available when Compass reached a threshold of having 75 percent of its students on free or reduced lunch prices, a federal indicator of poverty.

Compass provides an education to students who are in transition because of a change or crisis in their lives or who have been suspended or expelled from their home school.

The temporary placements, which can last anywhere from a day to a year, target students’ specific needs, maintain their academic progress and help them gain stability as they explore new territory in their lives and navigate toward a high school degree.

Jennifer Hafen, a Compass teacher, said there was a need for the library because reading strategy teachers have got students motivated to read, but they had limited access to books.

If suspended or expelled, students do not have access to their home schools’ media centers and for some students it’s difficult to get to an Anoka or Hennepin counties library.

To create the library, a team of about six teachers looked at students’ scores to determine their reading levels, interviewed students about their interests and spoke with district media specialists about what their libraries offered.

The team also consulted the Young Adult Library Services (YALS) best books and books for reluctant readers’ lists; Anoka County Library’s interesting male characters and strong female character lists; and Amazon’s “most wished” for teen books.

Students were so excited to have the library, books began to move off the shelves before an electronic check out system was put into place.

(Two of the first books checked out of the new library were “Impulse,” by Ellen Hopkins and “Heroes of the Valley,” by Jonathan Stroud.)

Without a media specialist on staff, Compass staff will volunteer to be trained by a media specialist on the district’s Destiny library system.

With a small space, budget and staff time, Hafen said the new library is not intended to be a research library.

“The library is intended to fuel students’ fire and motivate them to read,” Hafen said.

“In the first month it’s already done what we intended it to do; it’s helped a lot of kids find the joy in reading instead of seeing reading as a chore.

“It’s opened their mind to the fact that they can get into a entire series or find an author they enjoy instead of being told what to read all the time.”

For students at Compass who are finding their way, the library might be more than about losing themselves in a good story.

“A big part of what we do here is to help kids see the connections between themselves and the world around them,” Hafen said.

“Besides learning about the world, reading helps kids to learn about themselves.”