America’s first public high school, Boston’s English High School, has a storied history and today it’s responding to the very diverse needs of its 21st-century student body.
In the hallways, languages from Spanish to Haitian Creole can be heard alongside many others with students coming from diverse Boston neighborhoods. For first-year librarian Dave Barry, the range of interests and languages at his school poses an exciting challenge for the school’s library–one he hopes to take on with a boost from Boston Book Festival’s Shelf Help Award.
The English High School library is the recipient of our 2020 Shelf Help School Partnership, which awards two Boston-area public schools with at least 50 new, specifically curated books as well as a visit by a well-known children’s author or illustrator in collaboration with the Boston Book Festival’s October activities. This year, the visit will be virtual during BBF Online in October, and English High School students will be treated to a very special online appearance by Newbery Medalist Jerry Craft, organized by local literacy non-profit Wondermore.
“To have Newbery and Coretta Scott King award winner Jerry Craft visit us in October will be a joy and a fantastic way to get everyone talking about reading,” says Barry.
Craft is a New York Times–bestselling author-illustrator who has worked on numerous picture books, graphic novels, and middle grade novels, including the graphic novel New Kid, which is being made into a movie in collaboration with LeBron James. “To have Newbery and Coretta Scott King award winner Jerry Craft visit us in October will be a joy and a fantastic way to get everyone talking about reading,” says Barry. Craft’s next novel, Class Act, is a companion to New Kid and will be published this fall.
A school with heart
Getting kids talking about—and hooked on—reading is one of the reasons this long-time high school English teacher switched careers and got certified as a librarian. He saw the library as a place where he could really have a lifelong impact on students.
“I try to get them jazzed about independent reading, everything from fantasy to biography to graphic novels,” he says, “which will hopefully get them excited about reading and learning in general.” Barry is not short on ideas about how to do this. And if the students don’t come to the library, he’ll go to them. “I will also have a mobile book cart and will be visiting classes and taking high interest books with me.”
“I try to get them jazzed about independent reading, everything from fantasy to biography to graphic novels,” he says, “which will hopefully get them excited about reading and learning in general.”
This type of effort is one of many ways the English High School faculty and staff go “above and beyond” for their students. Barry says the school focuses a lot on making students “feel comfortable and inspiring them … and helping them find their dreams.” Teachers host after-school walks to show kids different green spaces like the Arboretum and Jamaica Pond that might be right around the corner, but that students may not have ever seen. English also hosts a Thanksgiving feast every year, where the faculty and staff serve the students. Barry says it’s yet another gesture to make the school into a place where students—many of whom are first-generation Americans—feel like they are part of a supportive community that cares.
Readers for life
For his own efforts, Barry has worked to make the library space lively and interesting. He hopes the Craft visit and new books continue to enliven the library and make it into a school centerpoint. “Once a student loves to read, they’ll have books to turn to life for solace, for inspiration, for information, and for current events,” says Barry. “I think it’s one of the best jobs in education to be a librarian. You get to turn kids on to something that once they see how great it is, then this will be something they can do for their entire lives.”