Even with schools closed, Dauphin County students get a leg up on learning through All Ready Access
The sixth grader plowed through Steelton-Highspire School District’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Librarian Jennifer Feldser then loaned the voracious reader her copies of “Catcher in the Rye” and “Slaughterhouse Five.”
When friends suggested other titles that the district lacked, she turned to a unique resource – the Dauphin County Library System card extended to every district student.
That student and his classmates are leveraging All Ready Access, The Library’s outreach putting library cards in the hands of Dauphin County students. The program expands the availability of research and reading materials and has been especially timely as schools closed this spring.
“Students have access to all of our online resources and all of our online lending materials,” says Hannah Killian, The Library’s Youth Services Administrator. “They can check out eBooks and eAudiobooks.”
The idea emerged when Susquehanna Township School District Superintendent Dr. Tamara Willis wondered about giving every student a library card. Killian went on a search and found a comparable program in Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, North Carolina.
Since launching All Ready Access in 2018, The Library is rolling it out district by district. Today, Susquehanna Township and Steelton-Highspire school districts are participating, Halifax Area School District’s program is under development, and St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Harrisburg has a program. Under the effort, districts share student ID numbers (the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act gives them the authority), and The Library creates a district-specific library card for each.
Killian came up with the name “All Ready Access” and its double meaning.
“As in, students already have access, and all of them can get ready for whatever is next in their lives through access to The Library,” she says.
Many of The Library’s databases are too costly for funding-strapped school libraries to purchase. “The Library offers a nice variety of databases available to the public, and they’ve made it easy for students to access,” says Susquehanna Township School District Library Media Assistant Merideth Staudenmaier.
Available resources include historical newspapers, practice tests for GED and college-admission exams, genealogy sites, grade-level learning sources, and research databases. Staudenmaier has been directing high school students toward career-readiness resources, such as preparation for professional certification exams and the ASVAB military aptitude test.
“Some of the kids were really interested in learning they could practice for their driver’s exam,” she says with a laugh.
Halifax Area School District leaped at the chance to participate, says Superintendent Dr. David Hatfield. The district’s strong partnership with Dauphin County Library System already delivers afterschool and summer programs. But in an area without a library building, many students lack access to a comprehensive range of resources.
“Students will have access to content that we know is safe, reliable, curated, and coordinated,” says Hatfield. All Ready Access could facilitate some things that haven’t been economically viable, such as a “community book” initiative.
And as Killian notes, “There’s absolutely no cost to the school, and certainly not to the students.”
When teachers contact Staudenmaier about upcoming assignments, she queues up the relevant databases – for instance, listing science references for an astronomy project. “The vast majority of students are going online for their research, so it’s nice to have these databases where you know the information is accurate,” she says.
When Pennsylvania schools closed due to the COVID-19 threat, Steel-High’s Feldser reminded teachers about their proximity to a rich array of resources. Hatfield agrees that All Ready Access is needed “now more than ever, as the students might be isolated.”
“The Dauphin County Library System is a great, reliable partner,” he says. “We know they serve the community well. Any opportunity we have to work with them really benefits our kids.”
The Library “is very good about reaching out into the community,” adds Feldser. “That’s a great thing for a library to be – a haven for families.”
The goal of All Ready Access and all school-based programs is to build lifetime relationships with The Library, says Killian.
“The most important thing is that a kid is ready for whatever is next, whether that is first grade or going to college or the workforce or an apprenticeship,” she says. “If The Library has played any role in that, then we’ve done our part.”