With support from Brown, Providence’s Hope High School opens 21st-century library and media center

Backed by $150,000 from the Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence, the transformed space offers students reimagined study areas, new technology and furniture, and an expanded collection of books and periodicals.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Dedicated spaces for individual and group study. Comfortable, versatile and laptop-friendly furniture. And a refreshed, expanded and diversified collection of books and periodicals.

Those are a few signature elements of a newly transformed library and media center at Providence’s Hope High School. After a renewal project funded by $150,000 from Brown University’s Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence, the space promises to inspire and support academic work ranging from group projects to multimedia presentations to one-on-one tutoring.

The refreshed library and media center opened its doors to students on Monday, June 7, following 11 months of planning, design and construction that involved leaders from Brown, the Rhode Island Department of Education, Providence Public School District and Hope High School, as well as high school students, teachers and families.

An intimate, COVID-safe ribbon-cutting event convened leaders from those organizations and more than a dozen soon-to-graduate Hope High School seniors to celebrate the new space on Monday afternoon. Brown President Christina H. Paxson said the library makeover marks the culmination of one project among multiple Brown efforts to support improved teaching and learning in Providence’s Pre-K-12 public school classrooms.

“A library is not just a place where you store books,” Paxson said at the Monday afternoon event. “When designed with modern academic needs in mind, it’s an inspiring place where students can cultivate important skills like reading, writing and research. The University was thrilled to bring to life students’ and staff members’ vision for a reimagined library that will empower students to dream big and find career success. I look forward to collaborating on many, many more such projects.”

The idea for the project originated in 2019, when Paxson and Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green met for the first time. As a deputy commissioner in New York, Infante-Green had seen the success
of a partnership between the New York City Department of Education and the nonprofit Robin Hood Foundation in revitalizing school libraries and promoting improved literacy among students. Infante-Green and Paxson discussed the potential to achieve something similar at Hope High School.

“About a year and a half ago, President Paxson and I toured Hope High and sat here in this library to discuss how we could work together to improve the school,” Infante-Green said. “The whole time we talked, we looked at the stained ceilings and the missing tiles in the flooring. It looked like we had given up on these students. A year later, here we are in the most beautiful space — a space that tells our kids that they count and they matter.”

Infante-Green added that the refreshed library “symbolizes a new beginning for PPSD. It exemplifies all the improvements we want for our schools and all the opportunities we want for our students.”

Hope High School Principal Matthew Buchanan said he was heartened that the Brown staff who pitched in on the project, from designers to librarians, took his and his students’ wish lists to heart when re-envisioning the library. He expressed optimism that the new surroundings would amplify further students’ drive to succeed in school.

“It is so important that Hope High’s students now have something brand new to call their own,” Buchanan said. “When students have visual proof that we are invested in them, they want to invest in themselves. Everyone at Hope is so excited to utilize this space for learning, networking and finding resources that will help them achieve great things.”

A 21st century library and media center

Six months after Paxson, Infante-Green and Buchanan toured the Hope High School library and began discussions about the potential to transform the space, Brown fully funded a commitment to establish $10 million in endowed funds to support Pre-K-12 students in Providence, created a new committee to oversee Fund payouts and Brown’s relationship with PPSD, and pledged $150,000 to support the library project.

In Fall 2020, Paxson and colleagues from multiple Brown departments worked with Buchanan and Hope High School teachers, students, families and librarians to understand their needs in a new space and collect feedback on everything from preferred space configurations to technology, books and furniture. Informed by that input, Joanna Saltonstall, a program manager in Brown’s Facilities Management department, led the development of a preliminary design for a reimagined library and media center.

“The high school’s original library space was a traditional destination for checking out books, reading and studying quietly,” Saltonstall said. “Students, teachers and librarians said they wanted to transform it into a multi-purpose space that supported learning many different ways — they wanted spaces not just for individual study but also for group projects, multimedia presentations and one-on-one conversations.”

The resulting design opens up much of the space previously devoted to bookshelves to allow for more tables, chairs and moveable whiteboards, giving students more places to work on group projects, study collaboratively or engage in quiet conversation. A large conference room and a one-on-one tutoring space at the edge of the new library and media center complement the primary study locations. 

Working closely with colleagues at Pannello, a Providence-based firm that specializes in contemporary office configurations, the design team selected furniture and area rugs with Brown’s Annenberg Institute suite at 164 Angell St. in mind — a space Hope High School and PPSD leaders wanted to emulate in the reimagined library

“ It is so important that Hope High’s students now have something brand new to call their own. When students have visual proof that we are invested in them, they want to invest in themselves. ”

Matthew Buchanan Principal, Hope High School

Physical work to transform the library and media center began in January 2021. Crews from Ruggieri Brothers Commercial Flooring replaced the space’s chipped, brown painted wood floors with a long-lasting gray vinyl tile. Once the area rugs and furniture had arrived, Commercial Electric crews connected much of the furniture to power, giving students the ability to charge laptops and technology at workstations. The University donated a large projector screen, and a crew from Shanix Technology installed it. Ver-Tex Construction installed shades on the library’s large windows. And facilities employees at PPSD touched up the paint on walls.

Kevin DeCena, a student at Hope, said he’s most excited to take advantage of the increased space for study; in the old library, the bookshelves sat so close to the tables and chairs that he often bumped into the shelves and knocked books to the floor while sitting down to study.

“I’m also excited to use the projector,” DeCena said. “My public speaking class is talking about meeting in this room for our next presentation — it will be so nice to use our computers to help us present!”

Another student, Anilton Cosme, is glad that the next generation at Hope High School will have access to more casual gathering spaces: “I feel like next year, a lot more people will come to the library,” Cosme said. “It’s a great opportunity for everyone.”

This summer, an expanded selection of books and periodicals will arrive at the library. Working from a wish list developed by teachers and library staff at Hope High School, Brown Deputy Librarian Nora Dimmock helped to select more than 300 new books to add to the finished space, many of which celebrate the experiences of Black, Latinx, Native American and LGBTQ+ communities or confront issues of racism in the United States.

The books span multiple genres, including young adult fiction, classic science fiction and fantasy. Some are included on the International Baccalaureate program’s recommended reading list — in a separate project backed by $40,000 from the Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence, Hope High School is working to establish an International Baccalaureate program.

The Fund is one element in a wide-ranging partnership between the University and PPSD. As part of the master of arts in teaching program, graduate students at Brown spend an entire academic year teaching at Hope High School or other schools across the district. Each year, students at Hope and other PPSD secondary schools participate in Brown Summer High School, an enrichment program that helps prepare them for college and careers. And countless Brown undergraduates spend time in Providence’s elementary, middle and high schools as tutors, after-school enrichment program leaders, teaching assistants and more.

“This project is part of a long-term commitment, not a one-and-done event,” Paxson said. “We will continue to partner with PPSD on improving educational outcomes for all Providence students. We have to keep going. The future is now.”