No more pencils, no more books...
Tom Tomporowski wonders what happened to the avid high school reader.
As Perham High School's media specialist, he's noticed a serious decline in recent years in the number of kids interested in books. According to circulation records at the school, students aren't checking out books anymore - at least not the ones lining the shelves in the media center.
He assumes it's because of hectic high school schedules - jobs, academics and extracurricular activities.
"I wish kids weren't so busy," he said.
Tomporowski and other school leaders also think the decline is due to students using electronic and Internet sources for research and reading material, instead of 'old-fashioned' books.
With the upcoming technology initiative about to provide every Perham High School student with his or her own iPad, the book use is anticipated to drop even more.
This lack of interest in books, along with a need for space - and a recent sizable donation to the school - got administrators thinking about different possibilities for the media center; ways to create a better gathering area for students.
The high school, almost 100 years old, lacks a commons area. This causes students to hang out in hallways before and after school, especially around the main entrance, causing traffic flow issues, Superintendent Mitch Anderson said in an interview.
The 549 Foundation was recently gifted an estate totaling around $187,000 from the Wardale family. The foundation board wanted this money to be used toward a project that would noticeably improve the high school.
They really did not want to "nickel and dime" the money away, Anderson said.
Though still in the brainstorming process, district leaders are laying out a plan to fix up the media center. New paint, new windows and other potential upgrades are not yet certain, but what is clear is that by this fall students will have a roomier media center - with far fewer books on display.
Tomporowski has been busy this summer sorting through the books - picking 'keepers' based on book condition, printing date and circulation records. All left over books will be donated to the elementary and middle school or the public library.
Books that will remain in the high school's collection include classics, as well as some newer fiction titles. Non-fiction and reference books will see deep cuts because they become outdated so quickly, Tomporowski said. The high school will keep just one set of hardcover encyclopedias - a 2009 World Book collection.
At the request of the school board, a small selection of these books will stay in the media center to help set a more studious atmosphere, Tomporowski said. The rest will be moved into a storage room, accessible only to a media center employee. Students may request books to check out via an online card catalogue system.
Moving the books will make room in the media center for some comfortable furniture and large iPad-compatible screens. While not all the details have been finalized yet, the center may house the Yellowjacket Shop, complete with iPad accessories and Yellowjacket gear. Food and drink would also be available for purchase.
The hope of school administrators is that an updated, roomier media center will be a magnet for kids throughout the school day; that students will meet there to do school projects or simply catch up with life. And with supervision and extended hours, the room will be a safe place to be.
While Tomporowski isn't angry about the upcoming changes, he has a few worries. For example, he fears that the high school collection will no longer meet the needs of special education students. Since the special education books are leveled for younger readers, they are being moved to the elementary and middle schools due to a lack of space.
He looks to the elementary and middle schools, which still see high book circulation, and tries to make the connection. He has a lot of assumptions about why younger kids still read: Teachers encourage books through incentive programs in younger grades, he said, and younger kids might have more time, more interest and/or fewer distractions.
Since the older kids are doing their research electronically now, Tomporowski said, he has to get comfortable with that and learn how to help students use the technology well.
"I have to go where they are at," he said, "so I can warn them about inaccuracy and other things about researching online."
Still, there are benefits to knowing how to conduct research 'offline,' Tomporowski said. A couple of years ago, he did a little experiment: He had students race to find the answer to a question; some students used encyclopedias and others used the Internet. The result? The encyclopedia was the faster way to find facts.
Yet some kids have no idea how to check out a book. Tomporowski recalled one senior coming to him last year who had to check out a book as part of an assigned research project, and didn't know where to begin.
This is worrisome to Tomporowski, as 'offline' research skills are still expected of people - especially college students.
While it's become essential to learn to use the Internet for reading and research sources, books have their advantages, too, according to Tomporowski. Books don't wreck as easily as electronic equipment and are extremely easy to use, he said: "A book is a beautiful piece of technology."