by Tammie Soccio
Librarian, Glenwood Elementary School
I knew I had found my perfect role in education over a decade ago as a school librarian. It was the perfect combination of literature, creativity, relationship and content. I love that it changes daily, but one thing that never changes is that the most important aspect of my role is the relationships that I build with both students and staff. Without those relationships, my effectiveness as an educator and a coach is greatly diminished.
Perhaps it was appropo that we got the word Friday the 13th that we would be closing down the schools for two weeks. We were instructed to raise the circulation limits and make sure each student in the school came to the library to check out extra books. In one day. For my school of over a thousand students, this would prove to be difficult, but librarians (and all educators!) are resilient. My daughter was able to come in to lend a hand since William & Mary had closed the campus and we got through it. Our teachers and tech team also sent home Chromebooks with each student in grades 1-5. As we said goodbye to our students, we believed it would be for two weeks. That following Monday was a teacher workday so that we could prepare to move to online instruction. We were told that the Library Media Specialists (LMS) and Instructional Technology Specialists (ITS) would be leading this transition. We immediately came up with training for teachers, and since our school began making the transition to digital instruction several years ago, we felt confident that much would go on as it had been. We worried about the students who didn’t have access to the internet, but two weeks was survivable. We’d just get them caught up when we returned. I started online storytime on our Glenwood Elementary Facebook page that Tuesday and we had over 600 families tune in! We have not missed a read aloud to this day.
I’ll never forget watching the news conference when the governor announced that we would be closed for the remainder of the school year. I sprang up from the couch with the loudest gasp I’ve apparently ever made. (My daughters complained about how “dramatic” I was being.) We wouldn’t see these kids again this year. We wouldn’t see our fifth graders or send them off in proper fashion. Dances were canceled, everything was canceled. I was reeling for the rest of that day. The next day I went to school to pick up our pet fish and some more supplies to teach from home, and the scene reminded me of a post-apocalyptic movie. Coffee cups left on counters and desks, calendars marked off to March 13. Library books waiting to be checked in and shelved. Papers and posters falling off of the walls. I literally had to sit down and compose myself in order to be functional.
By the next day, it was clear that our “Emergency Learning” short term plan would have to evolve into something more. It is blindingly clear to me that elementary teachers, including librarians and other specialists, have risen to the occasion. Within a day, librarians curated resources for teachers and families to use at home. These resources literally change daily, and LMSs as well as ITSs are rightly and happily tasked with getting these resources into the hands of our teachers and families. Every single day, companies are making their previously paid platforms free and open to support virtual education, and LMSs and ITSs are spending hours a day trolling Twitter and the internet to find, test and share these resources. Anything I could do to bring a sense of “normalcy” and fun into student lives, I happily did. Here’s a book toss video I put together with my staff.
On teacher appreciation day we did a neighborhood “drive-by” to reach out to our families, and my daughters were surprised by the number of students screaming the name of their librarian. Relationship means everything to me as an educator, and it brought many tears to my eyes that even though we are apart, the relationship continues. (I blamed the tears on the wind.)
I am fortunate to be in a school with an administrator who has been an avid supporter of the Makerspace program in the library. For those who are unfamiliar with this, it’s a dedicated space where students can tinker, create, explore, build and learn. Since the library works with the entire population, and is in a central location, it has been a natural progression to have school libraries host these innovative learning spaces. Winning several grants and hosting successful fundraising efforts have allowed us to have a progressive, exciting program for students to explore on their own. I didn’t want that to end. So, I created “Make-In-Your-Space,” our at home Makerspace program. Using Flipgrid and Schoology, students are asked to show what they have been making in their own spaces, and other students can interact with each other as well as with me. Several lucky students each week get a socially distant delivery by yours truly of one of our most popular robots, Dash by Wonder, to use at home for the week. Seeing the excitement on their faces when I drop off “Quarantino” is the high point of my week.
I put word out to my fellow school librarians that I would be compiling this information for publication and asked them to share what they have been doing to keep students learning, engaged and mentally healthy during this crisis. I think you’ll be amazed at what they shared.
Currently, most Virginia Beach school librarians (and their assistants) are:
- producing virtual school announcements.
- supporting families with accessing digital books or other resources.
- hosting storytime or another type of read aloud.
- creating professional development for teachers and other staff on resources and digital tools.
- technology newsletters (usually in collaboration with ITSs).
- helping staff and students access digital tools with Public Library.
- hosting digital book clubs.
- collaborating with reading specialist to create summer reading programs.
- taking professional development classes.
- participating in virtual collaborations.
- creating content lessons for teachers.
- creating enriching activities such as digital escape rooms.
- providing copyright infringement instruction, which is literally changing daily.
- book drops (disinfected, of course!).
- hosting virtual author visits.
- hosting virtual makerspace or other creative projects.
- delivering Student of the Month signs.
Chris Lowman at Holland Elementary picked up over one hundred plants from her school to care for during the closure. Susan Hampton from Kings Grant rounded up all of the specialists at her school to do fun and engaging virtual announcements. Deanna Moretz from Kempsville Meadows brought home an incubator filled with chick eggs and set them up on her kitchen table with a webcam so that her staff and students could see them hatching on the library’s YouTube channel.
I have never been more proud to be a school librarian as I am now. We’ve always known that we are so much more than checking out books. Now the world knows.
“When Schools Are Closed” is an ongoing guest column that anyone in the VBCPS community may contribute to. If you are interested in writing about how the school closing is affecting your daily routine, please contact Sondra Woodward in the Department of Communications and Community Engagement.