By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Though protocols and procedures may have changed throughout the district because of COVID-19, libraries at each of the Rutherford County schools remain as vital and vibrant as past years.
In fact, media specialists from all three grade bands — elementary, middle and high schools — have seen a wider variety of books being checked out since students returned to classes in early August.
Stacie Whitlock, a library media specialist at Stewarts Creek Middle School, has been encouraging her students to be more independent with their library accounts and searching through titles online before coming to the library.
“There’s books that have circulated this year that haven’t circulated in years because they’re using our online catalog more and able to dig in and really find things that interest them,” Whitlock said.
Erin Alvarado, a media specialist at LaVergne High School, agrees. Students seem to be finding new titles and new subjects that resonate with them, she said.
“It’s just been surprising and really awesome,” Alvarado said.
Whitlock added, “They already know what they’re looking for and so that’s been nice. I can say that part of it has been surprising and good for circulation.”
“The digital aspect of the library is really important for their future,” said Elizabeth Abed, who later added, “I think it’s very exciting to see (students) being pushed and required to use the digital resources. One of the benefits of this situation we’re in — dictating different things we can and can’t do — is they’re learning the very basic beginning skills before they even reach double digit age. It’s just going to serve them well for the rest of their life because it’s only going to become more and more online.”
Although she’s been an educator for 11 years now, Abed is in her first year as a full-time librarian at Christiana Elementary School.
After four years as a middle school English teacher, she taught and ran the library at Daniel-McKee Alternative School for the past six years. She is thankful for the guidelines that her and other librarians and media specialists have received from the Central Office.
Prior to accepting a position as the professional development center supervisor at the district level, Marcie Leeman was a longtime media specialist and has taken on the role of lead media specialist.
In July, Leeman met with lead media specialists from each of the three grade levels to discuss adjustments and potentially new protocols and procedures.
“There are different considerations that have to be made at the elementary level versus the middle school and high school levels,” said Whitlock, who was among the specialists to meet with Leeman.
In recent years, libraries across the district have served as an epicenter of activity in the hour prior to the first class each day.
Students would often meet up and relax in lounge chairs and couches, while others would study, use the internet connection or, perhaps, work on puzzles.
Currently, morning library hours are not allowed.
But classes are still taught using the library and its many resources and other classes are taught using Zoom. In fact, Alvarado and Carissa Benton were able to conduct their media center orientation with every student — both in-person and distance-learners — in a matter of two days using Zoom as opposed to the two weeks it would typically take to schedule each class to visit the library in person.
Each day’s book returns are placed on a single cart and quarantined for three days before being sanitized, checked back in and then placed on the shelves in the library.
In addition to helping students find books of interest and promoting literacy, librarians and media specialists alike help classroom teachers. At the high school level, they often times help students with the research aspect of senior-level projects and dual enrollment classes.
“I can’t tell you how many individual Zooms I’ve done with students needing help,” Alvarado said. “The kids just email and say, ‘Hey, can we Zoom?’ I’ll set up a Zoom and we talk, and I work with them. We really had a lot of success because the teachers helped us.”
Abed explained, “The vision of the library has not changed. The purpose of the library has not changed. … I think this year it’s forcing people to dive in and use (library resources in-person and online), which I’m really excited about.”
“I feel lucky that we came up with a plan before school started, to figure out, OK, ‘how are we going to stay open, how are we going to keep our students safe?’” said Whitlock, who has been at Stewarts Creek Middle since it opened in 2006 and is in her fifth year as a media center specialist.”
The pandemic has proven to be an “incredible opportunity this year to demonstrate what we can do and how we can help and really take on the role of media specialists as the role of instructional coach has changed,” according to Alvarado.
Librarians and media specialists have been offering to help teachers with technology and videos.
“We really have had the opportunity to help and be of service and integrate ourselves more into PLC’s and work with students in ways that we haven’t before,” said Alvarado. “There’s this opportunity that we’ve had to show who we are, what we do, how we can help make an impact in ways that, perhaps, we haven’t been able to before. I just think that’s the best part of this and hopefully that’s the lasting part of it. I think it’s up to us to continue those services, even when we are totally in person. And when things get back to normal, it’s incumbent upon us to continue the outreach and continue showing our value.”
In addition to making sure everybody gets what they need related to teaching classes and planning lessons, librarians are faced with finding new ways to personally connect with students — namely freshmen at the high schools.
The younger kids, “don’t give up easy,” Abed said.
They’ve been resilient as have other students throughout Rutherford County schools, including Stewarts Creek Middle, where Whitlock works to make connections.
“I can still be effective despite the challenges of having to clean and sanitize more and come up with different routines and procedures,” Whitlock said, “but, yeah, I’m always going to do my best to connect with the students and put the right books in their hands, even the distance learners.”
PHOTO / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT