Digital Literacy, Small Children, & Lots of Hugs [Farewell Post]

During graduate school, lots of things changed in my life. I gained new perspectives, read challenging articles and theories, traveled to Italy to present research I worked on, faced the trickling effect of top down decisions, took on a wide variety of leadership roles, completely changed my path of librarianship, and even cut several inches off the hair I had spent years trying to grow out. The one thing that stayed constant was the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center (UNCC).

It’s an after school center in Urbana, IL for K-12th graders. I was placed there for the Digital Literacy for ALL Learners grant in August 2014 and once funding was cut in April 2015, I just couldn’t leave the center. My initial role was a Community Ambassador teaching digital literacy and helping to maintain their growing computer lab and slowly I took on a bigger role becoming what my resume calls a Technology Mentor. On a normal day-to-day, I help manage 33 public computers & 3 staff computers, talk to new volunteers and donors about the technology in the center, facilitate conversations between the center and the University of Illinois, provide tech guidance and pep talks to the director, check homework (fractions are tough), remember countless Roblox accounts for elementary students, and try to beat all the levels in Speed Run 11 (the Roblox game the kids are really into right now and I’m really bad at this game).

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The UNCC computer lab

To end my time at this incredible place, I (along with a peer/faithful volunteer of the center) took on the challenge of creating a digital literacy summer program. After almost two years of being a part of the center, I finally felt confident enough to put something into place personally molded and meant for this particular group of kids. I wasn’t trying to fit a cookie cutter digital literacy program over the center. I wanted something just for them, showcasing and highlighting all the best things I had learned about them. It was a chance to teach them something new and put my efforts in ways to sustain this level of computer excitement once I had left.

Spoiler: this is hard.

Teaching the students about how the Internet work when we received a new ethernet switch box.

Miss Hailley in her element: teaching the students about how the Internet work when we received a new ethernet switch box.

I came into week one, fairly optimistic. I had a master plan and while everything wasn’t ironed out, I thought I knew where I was going. There was chaos the first few days but nothing I couldn’t handle. By the end of week one, I had a routine – my instruction started at 9:30 AM with K-2nd graders. After 45 minutes, I got a new set of kids, 3-5th graders (slightly bigger and even more talkative). We worked together for another 45 minutes before my final group of middle schoolers arrived for the final 45-minute session (the oldest participants who go between wanting to learn something with Miss Hailley and just wanting to play on the computers).

However, as the weeks went on (we are just starting week five), I found myself a little frustrated and a little lost. Having instruction for 540 minutes each week (aka nine hours) is not easy. I would come in one day thinking the sessions would go one way and find myself 10 minutes in, frantically thinking of a Plan B I needed to immediately shift to. If anything, this summer program has strengthened my instruction muscles and reminded me of a few things I should keep in mind in my new position.

A perfect world doesn’t exist.

Game plans are great until they’re not. Be ready to think on your feet and go out on a limb. Learn from your game plan mistakes and try again. Don’t be afraid to experiment – you know your audience (be confident in that). Also, I spent a lot of time after hours (over dinner and before I went to bed) brainstorming what Plans B-Z would be. This takes time but it gives you the experience of thinking about connections (inside and outside the box) and expanding your idea of what you could do.

Read the room.

Small children are great indicators if something is fun or not. Surprisingly, the things I thought they would get bored of, they loved. Run with the momentum of the room, even if it means changing your plans. At the end of the day I’m working with 80 some kids who want to have a fun summer and hang out with Miss Hailley (sometimes). The best learning can often be tucked in to something else and still have an impact.

Remember why you’re there.

Sometimes I would come home after a long day at the center feeling utterly defeated. The day didn’t go as planned, I was emotionally tired by all the yells of “Miss Hailley, Miss Hailley,” and I had no idea what I was going to do at 9:30 AM the next day. Self-care is one way to reset but also I try to think about all the things I love about those kids. Their energy, their imaginations, their endless questions, their wide eyes when you tell them something cool, and their hugs. Thinking about that stuff (and talking it through with someone) helps to settle me down and figure out a tentative game plan which will most likely be partially scrapped by 11 AM the next day.

UNCC group

The kids during a December 2014 graphic tablet workshop.

I’ve only got a couple of weeks left at the center but I am so happy I spent two years at this particular center. These kids have not only taught me about being a librarian and teaching digital literacy but have also taught me about being a better, humbler, patient, and energetic person. I’d do anything for these kids and hope I get the chance to see them grow even though I’ll be 10 hours away (yay for technology).

This is also my final post for Hack Library School. I’m thankful for the opportunity to write for this blog and for all the great connections I’ve made with my peers across the United States (and the world). While I won’t have any more monthly posts, you can still follow me on Twitter or migrate over to my blog, which I hope to keep more active once I start my new job in July.

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