Today I did my very first “promotional” school visit – I have been to schools before to lead programs, and I’ve had meetings with school librarians and teachers, but this was the first time I went to a school, stood on a stage, and talked at a huge group of kids who really would rather have been eating pizza.
It was quite an experience. A good one! A little overwhelming, but good.
I was at the local middle school to promote our teen summer reading program. At FPPL, we call “teens” kids aged 12-18, so we hit middle school as well as high school. This was the first time we’d been able to coordinate with the middle school librarian to come in and pitch the summer program to this age group, so I was excited for the opportunity but also feeling a bit trepidation – due to scheduling limitations, my time to talk to them was going to have to happen over the lunch hour.
I planned my visit carefully: I would get the last ten minutes of the 7th grade lunch hour, and the first ten minutes of the 6th. I brought a prize wheel, labelled with the phobias we’re using as theme weeks (our program, The Beautiful Nightmare, is themed around conquering and defeating personal fears. We’re gonna be eating bugs AT LEAST once.) with the idea that kids could spin the wheel and guess the fear for a prize (a piece of candy). I had bookmarks with the kick-off party info and our weeks on the back. I had an ally (the school librarian) and a microphone.
Things went well! They could have gone better – but things went well. For my first outing like this, I’m giving myself the win.
The scene: an auditorium-esque arrangement of chairs. Kids sitting in them scattered all about, some turned around, some busy on Chromebooks, everyone making a dull roar. Myself and the school librarian on a stage in front of them, armed with microphones. It wasn’t enough, in the end – the biggest error I think I made was trying to command attention when lunch was halfway over. Even when I asked for volunteers to spin the wheel for the promise of candy, I had trouble keeping the attention of the kids.
The second presentation went much smoother, because at that point I was SUPER fresh off feeling hoarse from the 7th graders and knew what, immediately, I could smooth over. The biggest advantage I had was that the kids were corralled as soon as they entered the lunch room; they didn’t have a chance to settle into their social time before I started talking, so I didn’t need to yank them away from each other. Instead of calling for volunteers one at a time, I picked four kids out of the audience and had them go one right after another. I let them know that 11-year-olds who would be 12 in the fall could participate (this is new, and I’m very in favor of it; summer is such a liminal space for kids, it seemed cruel of me to deny some kids our program just because they’d turn 12 in, say, August.).
I was especially grateful for two things: one, to have the chance to introduce myself to this group of kids, because while we see many of them at the library on a regular basis you never see all of them. Now they’ve had a chance to see me, hear my name, and have a person to connect to the library, so hopefully coming to the library will be a little easier.
Two, that we’re able to be building this relationship with the middle school librarian. He was so gracious and helpful in setting up this visit with me, and the school is SO close to the library; we’ll be able to do some great stuff in partnership with him, now that we’ve gotten our foot in the door.