Follett Features

Lessons from the National School Library Program of the Year

WESTCHESTER, IL, Feb 13, 2017By Britten Follett, Vice President of Marketing at Follett School Solutions

Going back to elementary school for a day and a half helps put a lot into perspective. Each year, Follett sponsors the National School Library Program of the Year, which is awarded at the American Library Association conference. This year’s winner was Veterans Memorial Elementary School in Bonita Springs, FL. The leading librarian, Marge Cox, is a long-time Follett customer who retired from her district in Indiana, moved to Florida and built the Veterans library from the ground up.

To celebrate their big win… this is much like the lifetime achievement award at the Oscars for school libraries… I visited Veterans for a mini-award presentation with Sylvia Norton, the executive director of American Association of School Librarians. Every student at Veterans brought their beach towels and a book to the school courtyard to give Mrs. Cox a round of applause. What a way to start the day, lounging on a beach towel with a good book!

So what makes Veterans an award winning library program? There are many accolades to address, but I’m going to focus on one – their strong engagement with the many members of their community. Arriving at Veterans Memorial Elementary School, I walked into Mrs. Cox’s after school parent/student makerspace camp.  Yes, you read that right.  Parents come in to the library after school to spend an hour and a half with their student exploring the makerspace. 

A father and son started on a laptop discovering the Moon through a Lightbox book.  A mother and daughter began building with a K'NEX kit.  A father listened to his son explain how snap circuits work while he boasted about winning the squishy circuit building contest in class.  These parents would never question the investment they are making in the school library because they spend time there and are invited to understand the vital role it plays in their students’ lives.

Teachers and administrators also echo the importance of the library. I interviewed three teachers about how they use and partner with the library to curate content for their lessons.  They said Mrs. Cox goes through their curriculum plans and brings them library content to support their lessons before they even ask.  Each of them said it would be devastating for teachers and for students if the library were to go away. Many students even opt to go to the library to use the makerspace rather than take recess! When Marge introduced me to her principal, I said, “You have an amazing librarian.”  And this first time principal said,

“You don’t have to tell me!  Our library is the lifeblood of the school.  We couldn’t do what we do without it.”

As for the students, the library at Veterans is a welcome space for all. I observed as the second grade class came into the library for group work on the scientific method using the makerspace.  Mrs. Cox encouraged the students to ask questions and think like a scientist as they navigated the kits.  I watched as a group of students struggled to build a battery powered snap circuit to complete the circuit and make the propeller spin.  The teacher probed the group, but when they could not figure out what was wrong, she asked if they wanted to solicit help from another group. They agreed.  A student from another group came over, asked what they were trying to accomplish, did some problem solving, explained why it wasn’t working and fixed the circuit.

I immediately thought “this kid is going to grow up to be the engineer of the group.”  The teacher explained that the student who came over and solved the problem struggled with school more than any student in the class.  However, in the library’s makerspace, he could be the expert and students who may often get better grades turn to him for help. This interaction and the overwhelmingly positive feedback demonstrate how libraries can thrive in schools where they’re engaged and solving problems for teachers, leadership and students. 

Spending a day in grade school made me think a lot about Follett’s engagement with libraries and librarians – where we fit within this ecosystem.  Our positive impact comes from developing amazing products and making our customers’ lives easier.  Our work with Project Connect and Future Ready supports librarians by promoting what they can and should be doing to transform education. It also made me think about the ways we work. Taking note from the library at Veterans, we’ll continue innovating by being engaged, solving problems and collaborating with one another to play to each individual’s strength.  Thanks to Veterans Memorial Elementary School for a fun and insightful visit.

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