School staff and students at Parkway Center City High School are redefining and even expanding traditional roles as the city school budget crisis enters into its third year.
Students and staff are taking on volunteer shifts so that the library, shuttered in a cost-saving measure, can remain open after school as a quiet place of study and resource for researching class assignments.
“It’s a school district phenomenon,” said Alex Buxbaum, who teaches English to sophomores in addition to theater, drama, and playwriting. “It’s a sad, sad reality. It goes beyond the budget crisis of 2009-10. They don’t think of librarians to make schools run with restrictions on budgets.”
“It’s not staffing schools. Librarians have become extinct, seriously endangered relic of our district,” Buxbaum said.
Gone were the antiquated tomes from a past era, replaced with relevant titles. There are two rows of desks with computers and columns of books. Computers and accessories have been donated through the generosity of others and students who worked on letter writing campaigns and networked with the idea of securing donations of new and slightly used books, he said.
The library has become a haven for students who have no interest in participating in sports or theater.
“It’s a place where all of a sudden, it allows them to take ownership of something in school and be connected to school,” Buxbaum said. “That might be one of its biggest virtues.”
Seniors Desiree Douglas and Ashley Crawford are student leaders who volunteer to work in the library.
School was something that I always knew was important, but at Parkway, I didn’t always fit in,” Douglas said. “As a librarian, I’m not just an ordinary student anymore. Now, I’m needed and feel important. I take my job seriously. It’s also a place I can chill and hangout, because there are not only teachers in there, but other students.”
Fellow classmate Ashley Crawford said, “The library is important to scholars, because it helps build our school’s community and our scholar’s intelligence. The library gives students a chance to feel safe in a healthy, productive environment. Students can come check out books without traveling, work on projects together, use the computer, and/or do homework. It really is helping our scholars succeed.”
Historically, Parkway Center City High School has had no functional library, with no space of its own, sharing space in the high school’s business and technical program. The first step in the transformation was updating the library and then identifying and obtaining relevant books that are of high interest, both nonfiction and fiction. The library was vacant for one year before Buxbaum took the lead in figuring the staffing needs for the new and improved library, and creating a space that worked well as a library.
According to Buxbaum, libraries in Philadelphia take on added importance, because many students live in a households that lack computers or devices capable of accessing the Internet. He and other education advocates say libraries fill that niche.
“A lot of kids don’t have access to technology and books,” Buxbaum said in an interview at the school library, restocked with relevant reading material. He said there are about 1,000 titles in the literature section that includes the works of Shakespeare, vocabulary and poetry books, and other study materials. Students and staff have made weekly commitments to work at the school library. On any given day, there are 15 to 20 students who stay after school to use the library.
Principal Karren Dunkley said reopening the school library was critical, because it allows students to research, print out information for their personal use and complete their assignments.
Some people have suggested extending library hours during the school day, but Buxbaum was hesitant about expanding too quickly since the library is completely reliant on volunteers who donate one to two hours each week.