Gateway to Reading: How the Learning Commons Has Adjusted to COVID-19 and Continues to Encourage Reading


Credit to Ashlynn Perez

The Learning Commons encourages students to come in and read from their selection of books.

By Shivani Bondada and DaNyla Creacy

Doors open wide for students or staff who wish to enter, the FHN Learning Commons which is filled with books and people. There to greet you are the media specialists, Tara Willen and Gabrielle Weston, as well as assistant Debb McDonald. While it is still a library, students and teachers use the Learning Commons for more than just reading. 

“Students come to the library for all different kinds of reasons like doing homework, studying, reading books, hanging out with friends, browsing books or the internet, and things like that,” Weston said. “The library is a place where students and teachers can learn or share ideas and they can do all of these things without paying.”

COVID-19 may have changed the way that the library looks but not its purpose of creating an environment that’s accepting of everyone. All the furniture is currently six feet apart which helps prevent contact tracing among students and is the primary reason that the library does not let students come in to eat lunch.

“Essentially because our attendance changes minute by minute and so we can’t spend all day creating a new seating chart for this half-hour and another,” Willen said.

Willen and Weston help students find a book that they may be interested in by interacting with students and asking them questions. They both Zoom into English classrooms and discuss any novels that students might find appealing, as well as going to classrooms every two weeks so books can be renewed. McDonald supervises, processes books, checks-in and out books and does mostly clerical work. All of the staff enjoy working at the library because of the students.

“I really like getting to share what’s new and what’s different from what they are having to read for class,” Willen said. “My other favorite part is the fact that it’s just different every single day.” 

Books that aren’t read often don’t get pulled off the shelf, but instead they are promoted and encouraged to be read more than the others. While some books do get read more than the others, this year’s Gateway books are read often according to the media specialists. 

“I promote the Gateways that don’t get read by using exciting keywords. Because of the cover or the type of story, students just glance over the book,” Weston said. “But you have to be more open. This year’s collection is very diverse and full of great reads.”

By reading at least three of the year’s Gateway books, students gain eligibility to vote for their favorite one. The prize for completing this challenge is getting a candy bar of your choice. Starting in 2003, the Gateway program was a way for high school students to care about reading and to get students to read things that they will end up enjoying.

“[The program] has kind of evolved in some ways to how can we get them to read books that are the best of the best that were written that year,” Willen said.

Just like the rest of the school, the Learning Commons has had to adjust to COVID-19 this year, but they’re excited about the future going forward.

“It’s my favorite place in the building and I really hope that students keep coming in,” McDonald said. “As we can loosen up our restrictions, we can go back to having a lot of students come through here.”