Blackstone Innovation School

Elementary school in Boston increases library resources, student confidence with EBSCO databases

At a Glance

Blackstone Innovation School
Boston, Massachusetts

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Related Products:   Research Databases

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The Innovation Schools initiative, signed into law in 2010 as part of An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap, provides educators and other stakeholders across Massachusetts the opportunity to create new in-district, autonomous schools that implement creative strategies to boost student achievement and reduce achievement gaps while keeping school funding within districts.

Located in Boston’s South End neighborhood, William Blackstone Elementary School became the Blackstone Innovation School in 2013. This designation gave the school more flexibility in the areas of curriculum, budget, scheduling, policies, staffing, and professional development.

In 2014, in partnership with St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, the Blackstone Innovation School implemented several of EBSCO’s school databases to augment a library collection that contained mostly outdated print books. Now the school’s more than 700 students and staff members, as well as the nearly 300 students and volunteers in the St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, have easy access to current, reliable research content – including much-needed informational texts – as well as the resources needed to develop students’ digital information literacy skills.

Our students love using EBSCO. In such an overwhelming information culture, they are able to tailor their searches so they can get the information they want.

Meg McDermott
School & Community Partnership Organizer
St. Stephen's Youth Programs


When the St. Stephen’s Youth Programs discovered that the Blackstone Innovation School did not have a library, the organization made it a mission to create and staff a library that could be used by both the school’s students and those enrolled in St. Stephen’s after-school enrichment programs.

According to Meg McDermott, School & Community Partnership Organizer for St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, the Blackstone Innovation School is now one of the only elementary schools in district that has a fully staffed and operating library, open five days a week, all run by St. Stephen’s staff and volunteers.

However, McDermott said, many of the books were outdated and the library did not have enough resources on a given topic to support the needs of a classroom full of students. She cited one example of a teacher who was looking for nonfiction titles about bugs. The library had only three or four books about bugs, and they had to be shared among a class of more than 20 students.  In another instance, the only book the library had on the subject of renewable energy was printed in 1992.

“Nonfiction is out of date almost bi-yearly,” McDermott said. “The majority of books in the nonfiction collection in our library are books printed prior to 2000.”

Another challenge facing the Blackstone Innovation School was the lack of high-interest reading material at lower reading levels. A large percentage of the school’s students are English-language learners who struggle with reading, said McDermott. Without any electronic resources, library staff had no option other than to send these students – even those in fourth and fifth grade – to a section of the library where they could find easy-to-read picture books, ones usually reserved for first and second graders.

“We discovered that we had some fourth graders who were reading at a very low level and were checking out chapter books they couldn’t read or understand, but they were too embarrassed to say something,” McDermott said. “They were interested in the subject matter, but the material was too challenging.”


In late 2014, the library implemented a number of EBSCO databases, including Primary Search® and Middle Search Plus® for students, and Education Research Complete™ and Professional Development Collection™ for teachers.

Accessing these resources is easy. Students can sign in from computers in the technology classroom, any one of the school’s 175 Chromebooks (purchased in preparation for PARCC online testing), or from a desktop computer in the library which is hooked up to a printer. In addition, teachers throughout the district are provided with laptops, so EBSCO databases can be accessed remotely as well.

“EBSCO has completely changed our research capabilities,” McDermott said, adding that the school’s EBSCO resources have fortified the library’s nonfiction collection.

In addition, since many of the articles include Lexile® Measures to simplify discovery of appropriate reading-level material, English-language learners and students who struggle with reading are experiencing greater success.

“Being able to print articles takes away some of the embarrassment of sending fifth graders over to the picture book — or ‘baby’ — section of the library,” McDermott said. “It’s actually a huge deal for their confidence, for their self-esteem.”

EBSCO databases are being used to support the school’s curriculum. For example, students in technology classes are learning about digital citizenship and developing information literacy skills. Lessons include how to distinguish between information found on the open Web and information found in databases. Recently, McDermott said, students chose topics of interest and conducted searches using both EBSCO and Google. Students compared the first two sources they found in EBSCO with the first two hits on Google. McDermott noted that many of the first hits on Google were advertisements. Students also discussed the difference between a blog post and an article written by subject-matter experts and published by a university press.

Explora really looks exciting. The Searchasaurus interface is great, and Explora takes it a step further with content and functionality. We expect it to help build upon our students’ research skills and enable them to evolve as 21st century thinkers and learners.

Greg Forsht
Technology Teacher
Blackstone Innovation School

“Our kids are so inundated with information,” McDermott said. “Figuring out what’s credible and what’s not credible can be a challenge. Now our students are learning how to determine the veracity of sources, to really think about the information they want and how they use the Internet.”

Teachers at the Blackstone Innovation School are also starting to integrate the use of EBSCO resources into their class lessons. Recently, second graders completed an English Language Arts project on fairy tales. Each student was tasked with finding five international versions of a fairy tale. Working with teachers in the library, the students compared how culture had informed each country in the writing of its version of the fairy tale.

“We didn’t have a lot in hard copy print, so they used EBSCO and were able to find crazy amounts of information,” McDermott said. “Fairy tales were coming from Japan and Germany. It was so much more information that we could ever provide [before]. I don’t know if they could have done the assignment had we not used EBSCO.”

McDermott herself has been “blown away” by the quality of content in EBSCO’s databases. Recently, she was teaching a lesson about the Civil Rights Movement to a group of teenagers in the after-school program. Her search returned more than 20,000 results, but she was then able to refine her results using limiters. She uncovered speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., historical accounts, and information about Civil Rights law.

“It helped me put together a really compelling lesson that my students were interested in,” McDermott said. “It has completely exceeded expectations, at the school and with the youth program as well.”

Benefits & Results

According to McDermott, both communities (the Blackstone Innovation School and the St. Stephen’s Youth Programs) are already seeing positive results from using the library’s EBSCO resources. First and foremost, she said, students are feeling a greater sense of accomplishment.

“They love using EBSCO,” McDermott said. “In such an overwhelming information culture, they are able to tailor their searches so they can get the information they want.”

Technology teacher Greg Forsht expects to see even more use of EBSCO resources this fall when he introduces students to Explora, EBSCO’s engaging new search interface for students.

Explora really looks exciting,” Forsht said. “The Searchasaurus interface is great, and Explora takes it a step further with content and functionality. We expect it to help build upon our students’ research skills and enable them to evolve as 21st century thinkers and learners.”

In addition, the school will highlight EBSCO resources during faculty professional development days. Many teachers are already familiar with EBSCO from using the platform in college, but McDermott acknowledges that there is so much more to discover.

“We’ve just sort of scratched the tip of the iceberg,” she said of their EBSCO resources. “We knew it would expand the learning opportunities for everyone […], but I don’t think we realized just how much. It’s beyond what we imagined.”

To learn more about EBSCO's school databases, click here.