A Challenge, a Champion, and a Legacy Leader

Finding a Way to Promote Libraries and Learning

Written and submitted by Amy Ransom

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(Pictured left to right: Amy Ransom, Allie Schutt, Daymara Haskins, Shelby Willis)

It’s that time of year: when school systems announce their “Teachers of the Year,” recognizing top-notch teaching and educators who are making a difference.

In conjunction with this, I have my own award I would like to announce: “Legacy Leader.” There are many people who come to mind for each field of study, but I would like to nominate someone in a lesser known discipline… a school librarian. Many educators organize and instruct, and many influence and encourage, but a librarian is the heart and soul of the school and we need to give them more than a pat on the back.

I recently visited Jeannette Walter, a librarian at Eisenhower Middle/High School in rural, Northwestern Pennsylvania. After talking with her, several staff members, and three spectacular students, I clearly understood her prominent role which would sweep any competition as a clear winner of the “Legacy Leader” award. Walter’s journey started as a young girl visiting the Bookmobile where her love of reading, books, and library services was first cultivated. The importance of learning and education instilled in her upbringing led her to pioneer curriculum and programming for libraries in her school district.

During renovations and restructuring of the district’s buildings, the district’s leadership team was in the process of closing the library. However, Walter was a voice opposed to this decision.  She remained strong, as a champion for the students and staff. And without her tenacity, knowledge and understanding that a school library has a magnitude of influence on learning and the community, a group of grades K-4 students would currently be residing in a school without a library. Her perseverance for the primary wing’s library will enable generations of children to discover the wonder of books and the bounty of free resources that a library supplies. It offers students and staff at the Middle/High School a portal to the world with walls that now extend far beyond the patchwork of fields adjacent to the school.

Libraries need to change in order to accommodate 21st century learning and to remain integrated in the cruxes of learning.  “Libraries of the past are slowly disappearing.  I think many people have a view of the library as a grocery store and the librarian as the clerk.  People come pick things off the shelf and I check them out,” Walter explains. “Libraries of the future are much more dynamic than that. My library is much more like a kitchen.  I have all of the ingredients, tools and recipes for students to discover, learn, and pull resources together to create amazing projects.  I teach students how to be life-long learners, creators, dreamers, inventors and discoverers.”

The $200,000 Follett Challenge annually provides a forum for K-12 schools to share inspiring stories of how their innovative programs are preparing students for the demands of the 21st century. When Walter heard about it, she knew her school had to enter. She enlisted the help of three students to create a video for submission.  Allie Schutt (senior), Daymara Haskins (junior), and Shelby Willis (sophomore) were excited for the opportunity to help Walter and give back to their school. The video reflected the mission and importance of the library as it is accurately named, “The Hub.”

Eisenhower Middle/High Schools went on to be one of the ten People’s Choice winners of the 2014 Follett Challenge for their video submission, bringing home $5,000 in Follett products and services.  “This was a big win for our little school,” said Haskins, “It has been a great inspiration and shows us the sky’s the limit.”

Teachers, staff and students supported the Follett Challenge submission by voting and posting the video on their social media accounts and encouraging people to vote.  “It is really cool to know we had as much support as we did throughout the whole challenge, which led us to winning,” said Willis about the involvement of the school.  “I think it will promote better education for the future students.  I also hope it will inspire other students to enter challenges because it shows that students from such a small school can achieve great things. “

Walter is proud of the kids at her school, stating, “We have really good kids here; we hold the bar high and they are exceeding our expectations.”  When asked why they have such great kids, she simply stated, “The passion, the work ethic…it comes from their homes; their families.”

Looking around the building you see partially finished classrooms and construction equipment surrounding the walls and halls, but that doesn’t stop the students. Regardless of this renovation, and somewhat chaotic state, these students are organized, engaged, and encouraged.  They are the heart and soul of their school and their legacy will remain long after the repairs are complete.  Schutt captures this feeling, stating, “This has been a great period of time in my life. The winnings will benefit not only us but those that use our library in the future.”

Amy Ransom is librarian/media specialist at Massaponax High School, Spotsylvania County Schools in Spotsylvania, Virginia. To learn more about Follett visit FollettLearning.com or join the discussion at FollettCommunity.

Reminiscing: 2013 Follett Challenge Grand-Prize Winner

While we wait in anticipation for the announcement of the 2014 Follett Challenge Grand-Prize Winner, let’s go back and reminisce a bit.  In 2013, Palo Alto Unified School District won in the Follett Challenge.  

Gunn Library was rewarded for its creativity and collaboration with $60,000 in Follett products and services.  In the spirit of collaboration, Gunn Library shared half of its winnings with the District’s three middle schools, each receiving $10,000 to utilize.

You can learn the whole story by watching the award video on www.pausd.org or by clicking here.

Stay tuned to FollettChallenge.com for the announcement of the 2014 Follett Challenge grand-prize winner on May 16.  The winner will be chosen from the four semifinalists:

  • Wayland Union Schools, Wayland, MI (Magnet/Parochial/K12 category winner)
  • Albert P. Terhune Elementary School, Wayne, NJ (Elementary school category winner)
  • Memorial Middle School and Thomas Jefferson Middle School, Fair Lawn, NJ (Middle school category winner)
  • Belleville West High School, Belleville, IL (High school category winner)