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Librarian Helps Snag $7 Million Federal STEM Grant for Indiana High School

January 26, 2015

At Pike High School in Indianapolis, IN, school librarian Chad Heck is playing a significant role in a $7 million grant which is set to transform the grade 9–12 campus—and the way the school library is perceived by the district.

“The library program has gotten a lot more respect from the administration,” says Heck. “They didn’t understand our role as curriculum and tech leaders.”

School librarian Chad Heck (in dark shirt, wearing glasses) in a training session with teachers at Pike High School in the library.

School librarian Chad Heck (in dark shirt, wearing glasses) in a training session with teachers at Pike High School in the library.

But after Heck helped co-write the U.S. Department of Labor Youth CareerConnect (YCC) Grant, his role, and that of ninth-grade librarian Lena Darnay, has changed dramatically. For starters, the school learned they’d won the grant in March 2014 and was expected to have many pieces in play by last summer. Those elements included professional development classes for staff as they adopted a new digital curriculum.

Twelve teachers began working with Heck for two weeks this summer toward developing inquiry projects for students, many of whom are being taught research skills this year, from how to phrase a search query to how to access information in databases. Teachers are also learning how to integrate more tech tools into classroom lessons—for example, outfitting  students’ cell phones with polling software.

“We’re infusing information literacy throughout,” says Heck, a former classroom teacher who taught STEM-based classes himself, though not in the Metropolitan School District (MSD) of Pike Township, where Pike High is located. “There are inquiry projects, as well as face-to-face classes. I’m helping the teachers design those lessons and also co-teaching research skills.”

The YCC Grant, launched in 2013 and funded by the Department of Labor, will focus the school’s move toward becoming a STEM-focused campus. Students now have four STEM paths they can follow. Similar to a major, the paths include engineering, biomedical/health science, information technology, and advanced manufacturing and logistics. There are also internships available with regional companies, including Eli Lilly and Rolls Royce.

Students are expected to commit to two years of the program, and 500 enrolled this fall. The school anticipates enrolling another 250 for the 2015–2016 school year, and interest has already exceeded availability.

“It’s going to have to be much more competitive to sign up,” says Kathy Sharpe, program manager for Pike High’s YCC program. “We may have to allow first-come, first-serve or have an application process.”

School laptops are on order, part of the Pike’s plan to become a 1:1 campus. That equipment was funded by the grant, which also enabled the school to hire a technology integrator. That’s been a tremendous help to Heck, who has a full plate providing library services and helping with tutorials and other technology lessons for science teachers and students alike.

In his eighth year in the district, including four years as Pike High School’s librarian, Heck doesn’t understand the meaning of downtime. He’s also completing his last year of law school, attending classes at night. But the grant and the related new opportunities has renewed his passion for school libraries, information literacy, and his school.

“I don’t think I want to practice law,” says Heck. “I think I want to stick with the library thing.”

Chad is a 2012 graduate of the Library and Information Science program at IUPUI.

Article courtesy Lauren Barack of School Library Journal

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Joanne Lovrinic