School Librarians Introduce Students to New Worlds

Weakley County School Librarians Offer Array of Services
Posted on 10/29/2020
This is the image for the news article titled Weakley County School Librarians Offer Array of Services“Mrs. Judy lets me go into all these different worlds that I love so much and I just want to thank her for that,” writes Jorja Porter, a Greenfield 6th grader, praising the work of Judy Martin, one of ten librarians serving our Weakley County Schools.

As masked children exit their classrooms with arms raised in front of them to ensure they are not touching (and therefore too close to) the classmate ahead of them, are socially distancing in cafeterias, and missing the opportunities to travel on field trips, administrators and teachers are doing all they can to ensure students not only act safely in this “new world” but feel safe during the pandemic.

Helping the cause are the librarians who open their doors (and young minds) to hundreds of books on shelves, unlimited knowledge online, and resources like color and 3D printers that enhance the learning experience of students and teachers alike.

Currently, Weakley Schools has more than 140 years of library experience in the librarians who have six Master’s Degrees among them. Westview’s Delana Smith also has an Education Specialist Degree.

And all, as Gleason School’s Amy Lawrence frames it, share a mission "to strive to instill and nurture a life-long love of reading in every student."

In a recent survey of the group, the ten reveal their greatest joy is introducing new books and stories to their readers.

Joining Martin, Smith and Lawrence are Karen Finch at Sharon School, Rubberta Powers at Dresden Elementary, Sheryl Alford at Dresden Middle, Alison Moctezuma at Dresden High, Christy Bell at Martin Primary, Charleigh Stephens at Martin Elementary, and Stephanie Virgin at Martin Middle who launched her library career this academic year.

Nine out of the ten have more than six years behind the checkout desk. Bell and Powers are the librarians with the most longevity - 24 years. Alford is close behind with 23. Martin and Lawrence have held the title of librarian for 19 years.

Moctezuma with 6 years, Smith with 11, and Stephens with 7 have, like most of their cohorts, spent their entire librarian careers in Weakley County. Finch has been with the County for 15 years and a librarian for 8.

With fairly lengthy tenures and, again during what most would agree is a potentially stressful season as COVID-19 precautions limit how students can congregate, all the librarians still indicated via a survey they are “very” to “extremely satisfied” with their roles.

Alison MoctezumaMoctezuma points out, “One of the things I love about being a librarian is that there is a routine to my day with a lot of new challenges thrown in. I love helping people and sharing with them my knowledge and seeing their own knowledge expand because of what I can teach them…. My absolute favorite is when a reader comes to the library and they want to try something new and we can discuss books – their favorites and least favorites – so that I can give them the best options to choose from.”

The shared love of reading and passing that passion along to others takes on evangelical qualities as the librarians talk of inspiring students, introducing new titles to explore, and expanding knowledge.

Rubberta Powers“I absolutely love watching students get excited about books!” Powers proclaims. “I love students coming to me and sharing a new book that they have found and are really enjoying. They want to tell me every detail. Often, I hear them sharing books or a new series with friends.”

Moctezuma illustrates the desire to keep adding to the circle of readers with a story from her book club.

“We started a discussion about books that made us cry,” she explains. “I told students about when I read the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and how I cried for three days after I had finished the book. One student checked it out at the end of the meeting and for the next two weeks we had some amazing discussions about her own reaction to the book. I loved being able to relive my own experience again and also knowing that I had connected an American classic with the next generation of readers, and who knows how many further generations because of who she might recommend the book to in her life!”

Kathy FinchFinch says her main goal is to “get students hooked on books and reading.” Lawrence talks of instilling and nurturing a “life-long love of reading in every student.”

Along with ordering and keeping resources up to date, librarians teach library classes and supply teachers with necessary materials they need in their classrooms.

Sometimes librarians help with reading interventions via RTI, encourage reading through clubs, and/or supervise the Accelerated Reading program that tracks the numbers of books read and offers quizzes to assess understanding.

Moctezuma emphasizes that she wants to create a space people “feel comfortable going to for a quiet refuge or for specific help.”

To do so, she says she needs to know the curriculum of every teacher so she can supplement and support what they are teaching, know the vision and goal of school administrators so that she can align library programming with those larger goals, and know personally as many of the patrons who use the library so that she can provide materials that best support their interests and nurture a desire for independent reading and learning.

Sheryl AlfordAlford sees that those who enter can explore far beyond what they’ve known. “I want my students to realize that they are not limited to their circumstances and situations. Books can help them grow as learners. I try to offer a wide variety of reading materials. I encourage students to read outside their likes or favorites. I reinforce skills that are taught in classrooms and work with my fellow teachers to provide resources that enhance and expand the materials they are covering in their classrooms.”

Both Alford and Finch work with their local public libraries to make sure each student has access to Tennessee Regional eBook and Audiobook Download System (R.E.A.D.S.) so that they can check out and read even more books online.

Librarians also have a skill set that make them a great “go-to” for a variety of “other duties as assigned.” In Weakley County, those range from yearbook adviser/sponsor, computer lab teacher, organizing family reading events or other activities such as the annual Veteran's Day Program, overseeing "Read Across America Week" each March, creating bulletin boards, updating the school website, taking photos and publicizing the school via local and social media, serving as Beta Club or Fine Arts Club sponsors, assisting with school spelling bees, and overseeing detention.

Bell even posts daily attendance and keeps up with truancy, while Smith is a member of the school’s data team charged with analyzing data to help better understand and support the needs of our various learners and serves as Westview’s testing coordinator. Powers covers bus duty in the mornings and afternoons. Alford and Virgin were tapped to cover the Monitored Distance Education program that was launched this year to allow learning at home during COVID.

Charleigh StephensStephens, who is also on her school’s data team, sums up a librarian’s responsibilities well, underscoring, “I have presented professional development, worked on school scheduling, participated in planning meetings, chaired the specialty committee, planned and ran Battle of the Books competitions, and so much more. All educators wear so many hats!!!”

With such a lengthy and diverse list of responsibilities, librarians could easily be overcome with all there is to do. But they all point to a fuel that keeps them moving forward.

“My favorite part of my work is helping students find that ‘just right’ book,” Finch explains.

Accomplishing such a task may come as the result of a one-on-one discussion or through one of the many clever activities librarians create to capture students’ attention.

For instance Finch, Lawrence and Virgin use a variation on "Read in the Dark” week. Lights are turned off, students get glow sticks or flashlights, and ghost stories “come to life.”

Martin, Bell and Stephens point to reading aloud as a favored way to “get kids hooked on reading.”

Christy Bell“I love sharing stories and introducing fairy tales to our students. You can tell that some students have never been read to. I love seeing them light up as they hear what characters are saying and doing,” Bell notes.

Stephens enjoys the immediate feedback from reading aloud, “I would say some of my favorite moments in my work would be when the students clap once I have completed a read aloud. When I find a book that elicits that response, I know I will include it in my lessons for years to come. It is so fun to see how much joy can be gained by listening to a story!”

Bell encourages reading aloud as she, like others, partner older students with younger for the students to show off their own reading progress.

Such investments result in long-term impact, Smith explains.

Delana Smith“My absolute favorite part of my work (and the reason I became a librarian) is helping students find books that they enjoy and/or love, especially when those students are reluctant readers!” she shares. “I once had a former student approach me while eating out to tell me thank you for teaching her how to use the Tennessee Electronic Library because it was the only way she passed Freshmen English in college. Considering they normally are not excited to learn about this, I was so happy to know that me pushing to teach every student about it did pay off (at least for her!).”

Alford has her own “connecting” story. “Two years ago one of my students came to me and said that she wanted to learn about her culture. I worked with her all year suggesting a wide variety of books – fiction, nonfiction, and biography. The more she read the more she wanted to know. At the end of the year she hugged me and thanked me for helping her become a better person and student.”

Incentive programs, frequently attached to data collected through the Accelerated Reading program can translate into a variety of rewards for the students. Finch offers top readers a trip to the movies in March. Lawrence says Gleason readers earn "shopping trips" in the A.R. Prize Room, celebrate accomplishments with "Disco Dance Parties" during Library class each week, and compete for trophies and cash prizes. In addition, elementary students have the opportunity to work together to achieve class reading goals and earn playtime with a couple of favorite pets.

As part of their training, librarians are encouraged to see libraries as a “growing, living resource.” As a result, worn books must give way to newer editions, new tools that may only be online must be purchased, and nonfiction must be culled if its content is out of date.

While Martin uses plant metaphors and talks of pruning as she passes worn and outdated materials along, Moctezuma sees herself as “the doctor.”

“I want the library to be healthy and welcoming and that means knowing what I have, where it is, how it contributes to the overall environment, and recognizing when it needs to go.”

Stephanie VirginThis year Virgin is using Martin Middle School funds for online sources in case COVID causes another closure. She also agrees with her colleague in Greenfield, “It is hard to weed out books because you never know which book will spark the love of reading in a student.”

Smith purchased Westview a color printer this year. Not too long ago, Dresden High School’s library added a 3-D printer.

Martin had thought purchasing iPads for each student in the library was only a dream -- until the dream became a reality this year.

“The students love them,” she reports.

Librarians are often faced with whether to purchase hundreds of new books or investing in the technical realm. When asked about their dreams for their libraries, many focused on resources of a virtual nature.

Still on Alford’s wish list is a Smart Board while Virgin would like a Wi-Fi hub at Martin Middle. And, since her physical space leans heavily on décor that offers a nod to Hogwarts, she says it would be an “amazing dream to take MMS to Harry Potter World in Orlando.”

Smith talks of creating a "makerspace" within the Westview library.

“We've added small things here and there, but I'm hoping to add a laser cutting machine this year that will allow the students to make their own items for projects, etc. I think it would be a wonderful learning experience for them to learn the process, from designing it to the finished product!” she notes.

She and Stephens wouldn’t mind a general facelift for their spaces to create an even more inviting physical atmosphere. Bell also lists several ‘reading nooks’ as items on her wish list.

“Something I dream for the library is to see it be a ‘hub’ for the school,” reveals Moctezuma. “The place for students to come for a variety of reasons. I want them to find here the opportunity to explore their interests and learn and grow as individuals. I want them to find here a place to relax, a quiet moment, or to collaborate and connect.”

Powers speaks for many, “I want our school library to be a place that children look forward to being. I want them to enjoy the activities, be excited about the books and enjoy the activities we provide. Most of all, I want the students to become lifelong readers.”

Virgin says she has worked hard to create “an inviting, comfortable, and safe place to be. I feel that our library is the heart of the school. It makes me proud that students are excited to come and experience new books or technology skills.”

And Stephens points out that creating such a reading culture is not a solo activity but one she and others work on together. “The administration, teachers, assistants, and students are all on board with our reading program. They all encourage each other to read!”

Given the varied skill set required of librarians, as a fun exercise they were asked what they might be if they had not assumed the role they did.

Finch believes she could probably “organize a whole corporation without any problem.”

Moctezuma also leans into the multi-tasking skill set. “Most days I feel like a jack-of-all-trades because there are so many different tasks I am asked to accomplish. Sometimes I’m a tech guru, sometimes a therapist, a personal assistant, I once even had to do some sewing for graduation.”

Stephens took a “multiple choice” approach to the question. “I've recently been renovating a vintage camper and I have thoroughly enjoyed having a big project to work on. Maybe I could be a camper flipper. Is that a thing? OR a book reviewer or writer if I could ever come up with an idea creative enough! OR a junk/antique shop owner! I love to go 'junk' shopping and restoring old furniture or discovering new uses for discarded things. OR some type of event or school planner. I enjoy finding the most efficient and successful way to do something. I enjoy problem solving and scheduling. However, I am terrible at small talk and I'm a bit of an introvert, so I might ought to stick to the library.”

Smith says she would “LOVE to be a florist” or “a farmer/craftsman on a small homestead, selling off the extra meat, produce, dairy, and items I make to pay the bills.” Virgin apparently shares the interest since she says, if not a librarian, she would be “working on my little farm taking care of my chickens, goats, bunnies, pigs, and horses full time.”

Bell acknowledges that she plans to retire after this year so she is ready to put her hobbies of sewing and painting to good use in the next chapter of her life.

Powers, Alford, Martin and Lawrence didn’t stray too far from their bookshelves.

“If I were not a librarian,” Powers admits. “I would still want to teach. I would like to teach elementary or middle school. I would also be a great nurse.”

Alford says her favorite fantasy is that someone would “pay me to read books as I travel and explore the world.”
Martin thinks she might enjoy working in advertisement or writing children’s books.

Amy LawrenceLawrence, in sharing her dreams, admitted that she would like to become an author “to write and publish books, to see them on our school's library shelves, and to watch as students check them out. To know that a child enjoyed reading something I created would be so exciting to me,” she added.

As for considering the possibility of doing anything other than her current role, she points to the fact that she enjoys utilizing music, skits/drama, puppets and laughter to help books "come alive" for students. “So I suppose the combination of those skills, along with the skill of organization and my love of reading, would be best suited for...nothing else I can think of. I was meant to be a librarian,” she concluded.

Dr. Seuss, whose Cat in the Hat is a frequent visitor during March’s Read Across America library event, encourages playful thoughts in his Oh, The Places You Will Go. Greenfield student Jorja helped launch this brief look at Weakley County Schools libraries with her thoughts on the worlds libraries opened to her and her friends.

Judy MartinGreenfield librarian Martin likes to encourage that line of thinking, “The theme of our library is ‘Reading Takes you Places’ and we have planes, rockets, ships, bicycles, and trains in our library to represent this. I tell the students that reading takes you places in two different ways: when you read, you can be taken to a faraway place like a castle; and, secondly, reading takes you far in life by providing you a wonderful education to get a great job which will help you earn more money and let you travel far in life. This is the best job in the school!”

all librarians
IN THEIR FAVORITE SPOTS -- Librarians serving Weakley County Schools are (from left to right) Rubberta Powers, Dresden Elementary; Stephanie Virgin, Martin Middle; Kathy Finch, Sharon; Alison Moctezuma, Dresden High; Amy Lawrence, Gleason; Judy Martin, Greenfield; Delana Smith, Westview; Christy Bell, Martin Primary; Charleigh Stephens, Martin Elementary; Sheryl Alford, Dresden Middle.

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