Solace in the Commons

During the hectic school week, students find peace in the library


Library media specialist Cassandra Flores running and event from the Griot Museum. This activity allows students to learn in an engaging and interactive way.

As the bell rings and seminar begins, students start to file into the Learning Commons. After they sign in, the students are directed to tables in the center of the area, where themed snacks and drinks wait for them, and they can sit and wait for the presentation to start. Sometimes it’s an author visit, and students can ask questions about the writing process. Sometimes it will be a visiting librarian, with a prepared historical slideshow. Whatever the presentation is, students still come to see it. 

This is not the expected student response to a library. The staples of a library, dead silent rooms, a distaste for socializing, and near constant shushing, are the polar opposites of what a student wants in a place to spend their time in. These are not the features that define FHC’s Learning Commons. In her time as a library media specialist since 2017,  Mrs. Tonishia Lamartina has made efforts to create the best socializing, learning, and relaxing environment she can in the learning commons.

“What we try to provide is a space that has a lot of flexibility and a lot of options for students.” Lamartina said. “It’s more open and it’s not a rigid environment. We try to be helpful and supportive, and so we hope that all students feel welcomed here.”

As far as many students are concerned, they have succeeded. Senior Cassidy Low’s schedule leaves her with multiple hours without a class, so she chooses to stay in the learning commons instead.

“It’s a good place to hang out with your friends. Because I only have two or three classes,” Low said, ” I don’t see my friends all throughout the day, and the library is just a common place for that. Everyone knows where it’s at, I can say hi to them as they pass by, and see them at lunch especially. It’s just super nice.”

Mrs. Cassandra Flores is in her second year here as a library media specialist, and is also doing what she can to make the commons as welcoming as possible. Part of this approach is making sure that students don’t feel judged or pressured to stay silent.

“We’re not gonna sit there and shush you if you’re being loud, because that’s not what we care about.” Flores said. “We’d much rather that the students are feeling comfortable versus feeling like they have to be super quiet.”

Lamartina and Flores understand the level of stress and anxiety that can arise from even a simple school day. It’s because of this that they do their best to create a third place, away from home and the classroom, where students can feel at ease.

“I feel like everywhere kids are, they are being swarmed by noise, even just walking down the hallway.” Flores said. “So having this quiet and relaxing space is just so important.”

Another key goal for Flores and Lamartina is to help new students acclimate to their surroundings. As socializing and making friends can be difficult for someone new to the school, new students are given an automatic spot in the library for lunch. Due to the limited space, it can be tricky to get a spot in the commons for lunch, but the library media specialists feel it is important to guarantee new arrivals this space before opening it up to others.

“For a new student, can you imagine how intimidating it is going into the cafeteria and seeing faces you don’t recognize, and trying to find a seat?” Lamartina said. “So we’ve worked with guidance so that a new student can get an automatic seat in here [for lunch].”

The library media specialists also try to encourage interesting and engaging ways for learning, through special events, like guest speakers and breakout boxes. Using these methods to make education interesting is a passion for Lamartina.

“It’s really about innovation and how we can make learning engaging and make students want to interact with [education].” Lamartina said. “I just find it energizing and inspiring to collaborate and find great ideas.”

It’s these efforts that keep FHCs learning commons feeling alive in ways it’s contemporaries fail to. The library media specialists have created an environment that many students see as a sort of safe haven. While other school libraries struggle to maintain the interest of their student bodies, the learning commons excels. It acts as the heart of the school, where students come to relax, interact, and learn, all at the same time. So as the bell rings and seminar begins, you can count on dozens of students heading to the learning commons.