Brody Bennett reads at a table in the Cub Cafe area of the library at Madison Consolidated High School. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
Brody Bennett reads at a table in the Cub Cafe area of the library at Madison Consolidated High School. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
The library at Madison Consolidated High School doesn't resemble a traditional library. There are fewer books than in previous years, the periodical section has been removed, and a new coffee shop has turned the traditionally quiet area into a gathering space for students.

Cub Cafe is a place for students to enjoy a cup of coffee between classes, during a free period or in the middle of longer non-traditional classes that the school now offers.

"The library has changed, you know. It's not 'shhh' anymore," said Chris Dobyns, school librarian and barista. "It's 'come in here and let's work together and see what we can do.' If you need some books, we can do that, if you need to do something on the Internet, we can do that also."

Principal Kevin Yancey said changing how the library is used, along with its atmosphere, is something he and other school administrators have wanted to do for some time.

"When we came here, that (wall) had all the periodicals on it. And it looked pretty, but anybody who knew anything about the library knew they were outdated. (All of that information) was all online," Yancey said. "Our new superintendent (Ginger Studebaker-Bolinger) has been a real advocate of pushing the library and using our resources. It's come a long way. Today you want the library to be welcoming. You want people to want to be a part of it. You want it to be the focal point of learning."

Students and teachers have taken note. The library has become a gathering place in the school.

"It's amazing how many classes come down, where we used to not have many," Yancey said.

Alanagh Pimlott is one of two teachers who run the credit recovery virtual lab. Students in her class are usually upperclassmen who are either working ahead so they can graduate early or playing catch-up after missing large amounts of school due to an illness. There is no set time or curriculum for her classroom, so many students are there for seven hours a day.

Pimlott says a lot of her students find it helpful to use the coffee shop to take breaks and refocus. They can even complete their work at the library if they choose.

"Sitting in front of a computer for seven hours a day can be pretty deadly," Pimlott said. "It's nice for them to have a chance to get up. They stay a little better focused that way. It's the same sort of opportunity for them as we would have in the working world. It really serves my students quite well because we have an alternative learning environment here."

Dobyns said she was worried at first. She figured some students would try to take advantage of the new freedom the school was offering. However, she hasn't had a problem yet.

"I'm not really having kids leaving class without permission. Nobody's spilled anything. It's really run very smooth. I'm pleasantly surprised," she said. "These kids are really polite. You would not believe the manners these kids have, I'm really impressed. These kids seem to know when they need to study and when they can chill. They really do. I really don't (have to regulate them)."

Jordan Griffith, a junior, said he appreciates not only the trust the school is giving students, but also the money they've invested in setting up the coffee shop.

"It's pretty cool," he said. "It's nice to have a place to take a breather in the day. It's nice to have something that's for us."

Funding for the coffee shop came through an Indiana Department of Education classroom innovation grant. The $200,000 grant helped the school pay for televisions, equipment and supplies for the coffee shop. Many of the countertops, booths, stools and tables were either donated to the school by local merchants or made by some of the school's shop classes.

Brownies, cookies and any other treats that Cub Cafe sells are made by the Home Economics class.

Making the library a more comfortable place to spend time isn't just a face lift, it also signals a change in how the school is trying to teach the newer generation of students.

Lisa Cutshall, technology director, said the school has added a wireless infrastructure, as well as a program called LanSchool that allows students to work from several places in the school.

"Teams can go down to work on a project in the library and be in touch with teachers," Cutshall said. "The program makes it so the teacher can see what's on their screen. There's also a chat feature, too, so a teacher can take over the screen to show something or announce something to class."

According to Yancey, the school is trying to make changes that aren't just cosmetic but that will improve the quality of education.

"It's not so much about the coffee shop and food offerings as much as it's about a place to learn that's not as traditional as some other spots in the school," he said.

Pimlott added that it was time for education to evolve.

"It really brings education into the 21st century. We're looking at education outside the traditional box of the 1950s," she said.

"Students today look to learn in a different way."