Literacy in the Zone – A Partnership for Sustainability Between Nashville After Zone Alliance and Nashville Public Library

Guest post by Rachel Roseberry

“A critical and sometimes overlooked resource is the public library, which is well-positioned to facilitate collaboration, build partnerships, address gaps, and support a lifetime of improved education outcomes.” – Urban Libraries Council, Winter 2015

Former Mayor Karl Dean created the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA) in 2009 to increase the high-school graduation rate by leveraging after school programs’ capacity for student engagement, a capacity that has been linked to increased school-day attendance, improved behavior, and grades. NAZA is an expanded learning system whose programs provide free, high-quality after school opportunities for middle school students throughout Metro Nashville Public Schools. Its services are organized by geographic zone, in order to ensure students can safely access afterschool resources within their own communities.  With Mayor Dean’s departure due to term limits looming in 2014, NAZA began looking for a permanent home.

Conversations with Nashville Public Library (NPL) became serious almost immediately when NAZA was seeking a city agency to join.  According to NPL Director Kent Oliver, “with the directions we (NPL) were going with literacy, with our programs for kids of all ages, the more NAZA really seemed to make sense, because it’s a way for us to directly impact students in a way that we haven’t in the past.”

NAZA joined NPL’s Community Engagement division in July 2014 and began to build a culture of reading and writing in all of its programs to stem the motivational and academic literacy loss occurring in middle schools.

NPL and NAZA have found creative opportunities to share resources and improve programming for middle school students.  Their Reading Mentors program pairs NPL branch librarians with NAZA After Zone sites to promote reading and library services. This program allowed Teen Librarian Kara Youngblood to launch a book club with NAZA students participating in the Girls Inc. program at a middle school near her branch this past year. The group kicked off their book club by reading Neil Gaiman’s award-winning graphic novel Caroline and watching the movie at Youngblood’s branch.

NAZA site coordinators also now have access to NPL’s nationally recognized Limitless Libraries program, including Educator Card borrowing privileges that allow coordinators to easily request books for use in their programs. They can also request visits by NPL’s mobile makerspace, Studio NPL, and its mentors.  Most critically, NAZA has brought on a Literacy Coach to offer training, mentoring, coaching, and curricular resources to programs and site staff.

Looking to the future, the NAZA-NPL partnership expects to reach more students through new programming. NAZA opens its Summer Zone with Nashville Scholars in June 2016 for 8th – 11th grade students.

Nashville’s partnership between NAZA and NPL reveals several questions for other expanded learning systems that hope to partner with libraries:

  • In what ways do the goals of the library and the expanded learning network converge? In what ways could a partnership be beneficial to both parties?
  • How can the strengths of the library (e.g. extensive material resources; passionate, knowledgeable librarians; existing programming) be infused for student benefit into afterschool or summer programs?
  • How can the strengths of the expanded learning system (e.g. student engagement; consistent student population) be used to further the outreach goals of the public library?

There is much to learn, but NAZA and Nashville Public Library are convinced this type of innovative partnership is impacting the literacy lives of adolescents in Nashville in powerful ways.

Rachel Roseberry is a Literacy Coach with the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), a nationally-recognized system of free, high-quality afterschool programs that provide academic support and new creative outlets for Metro Nashville Public Schools’ middle school students.

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