At the Caroline Chisholm Catholic College in Melbourne, Australia, the school’s library was on its last legs. Usually reserved as a place for unruly students to serve their time in detention, the books were locked away and most of the chairs were stacked up on the tables, a sign of how few people visited. The school had expanded its information and communications technology, as well as its online resources, but had largely turned its back on its physical library. Luckily, that all changed when Marco DiCesare began his role as the school’s new principal. Today the library is thriving and the student’s results have seen an improvement.
Speaking of his first impression of the library, DiCesare said: “In terms of borrowings, it was so run down and tired, very rarely did I see anyone come into the library. That was a real culture shock for me.”
As The Age reports, DiCesare said he understood the necessity for the school to embrace online resources, but also said he found it hard to believe there was no longer a place for a library with physical books in a school. In an effort to rejuvenate the library, he hired two librarian-teachers, who implemented a school-wide reading program in 2016, and soon the library got a second lease on life, and saw an increase in student’s performance.
In 2016, the the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) found the school’s reading scores had fallen to an all time low. Disturbed by this, DiCesare hired Information services co-ordinator, Barbara Roach, to help rebuild the fallen library. “Marco said ‘go for it,’” she said, “because there was nothing here that he was precious about.”
Roach headed to IKEA to buy a fresh set of furniture, as well as chess sets which she installed in the library over the Summer. “I wanted them to see things were different straight away,” she explained.
The secret to re-energising the library didn’t just lie in buying new furniture, much of it had to do with changing hearts and minds, something that’s not as easy as simply purchasing new chairs. “Part of it was helping staff understand the cultural shift, that this is a place you can come with your class, you don’t send your naughty boys and girls here – that took time,” said Roach.
The impact of the new library has already had a positive impact on the school as a whole. Earlier this year, the college received national recognition by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority for the improvement in literacy results its students have already achieved, and its gains in the NAPLAN test have doubled the average.
The school has over 1,400 students from 83 different nationalities, and the school has over 50 languages spoken on its grounds. Many of the students are new to Australia and DiCesare said that literacy standards is a focus for them.
DiCeasare initially thought that a focus on writing would help the students improve their literacy, but soon discovered a better grasp of the English language was the way to go if they were to improve their writing. “That was why we approached it from the reading perspective first,” he said.
In the past, the school usually leaned towards promotion the sciences, such as maths, business studies, and science, but now more and more students have begun to explore the arts, including music. “It has affected the way we are running the whole school now,” said DiCeasare.