Saturday, August 30, 2014

Remembering Katrina Nine Years Later

Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I also happened to finish Julie Lamana's book, Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere. Now in retrospect, it seemed to be a fitting way to commemorate the occasion. This work is an outstanding middle grade novel. Our seventh graders have read Jewell Parker Rhodes' Ninth Ward over the past several years, and Lamana's book is equally as gripping.   Lemana follows a family from the Ninth Ward that has to escape the rising waters by climbing into their attic and eventually onto their roof. Death faces them square in the face and when they finally get rescued off the roof, the family also gets separated. It was a hard book to read and took me longer than it should have considering its intended audience. I think that it was due to the subject matter. The one thing that bothered me about the story was at the end when Armani gets a ride into New Orleans on the 2nd of September to try and find her missing family members. There is no way that they could have traveled anywhere near the Ninth Ward on that day. The water had not yet receded. When she finds someone cleaning up their property and a fan going, I knew the author had played with history. I live in an area that was not flooded and did not have electricity until the middle of October, and it took a lot longer for those in the Ninth Ward to get their services back. I know that is a little thing to quibble about, but I do wish that the author had been more accurate with the history. Otherwise, it is excellent story telling from this first time author. 

Though my life was not turned quite as upside down as Armani's in the book, I certainly felt like I was adrift during the weeks that followed the storm. I had gone to stay with family in New Iberia, LA. It also happened that  a colleague of mine from the elementary school where I used to teach had evacuated to the same house as I did. There were also several families who had attended that same school who evacuated in the area. A little one room school house was created by Paul Reynaud for these students. As a true librarian, I took it upon my job to offer story time everyday to the group of about a dozen kids. The students would walk down to Bayou Teche for lunch and recess. Afterwards, before returning to class, I would hold a story time. My greyhound, Mitzi, would always join the group and listen to me weave my tales. 

We were staying down the street from the New Iberia public library. When I went in to check out books, they gave me a temporary card and told me that I could only check out two books at a time. On every visit, I would explain that I am reading to a group of young evacuees and needed more books. They would tell me that I could check out the ten books that I wanted, but that they could only allow it this one time. When I went back a couple of days later, I gave the same story and was told the same thing. It seemed that I luckily got a different staff member on each visit who granted me permission to take out a pile of books. This lasted only three weeks because when Hurricane Rita blew into town, I evacuated from New Iberia and headed east to Atlanta. In November, after my return to New Orleans, the little one room school house had moved from New Iberia to New Orleans and grew in size to about 40 students. For several months I would visit the school several times a week to tell stories. For these occasions, I would visit the elementary school which was not opened to students yet and retrieve books that I could use in my lessons. It was a way to keep me grounded and busy until I found a full time job again. (All public school teachers in Orleans Parish were let go, and I did not return to work until the middle of December, 2005 and finally back into a library after the first of the year in 2006.)

Students from Sugar Cane Academy enjoy story time 
With the anniversary of the storm there have been some resurrections of old articles written in 2005 that I want to share with you if you are interested in reading more about this impromptu school. Michael Tisserand is an author and father of two of the students who attended. Open here for his article about Sugarcane Academy. Michael also wrote a book about the school, and you can open here to find out more about that title. The school was highlighted in the news on television and in newspapers. This next article comes from CBS News. I started my very first blog with my husband, Inside the Bowl, in November of 2005. It was about returning to New Orleans in the fall of 2005. I can share the archived link because it is not posted online anymore, and you can only view the text here because the pictures will not load

There was a wonderful series posted online on August 26th from our local paper that took photos taken in 2005 and superimposed today's look of the same images. You can find this cool interactive article here

There are other well written middle grade books about Hurricane Katrina that include Paul Volpani's Hurricane Song and M. H. Herlong's Buddy. I have to admit that I have not read Buddy yet, but it is on my list of books to read. It along with Lemana's work have been nominated for the 2015 Louisiana Young Reader's Choice Awards for grades 6-8. At PFTSTA, we used that list for summer reading for our 6th and 7th graders. I have purchased all the books on the list, and the students have time to read all ten titles before they need to cast their vote for their favorite. 

If it weren't for Katrina, I don't believe that I would have ever looked for a job in Jefferson Parish and found Patrick Taylor Academy. I just started my ninth year teaching there, and it truly is a wonderful place to be. I have had enough reminiscing, next time I will get back to more current topics. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Encouraging Reading

I have noticed the circulation statistics of the book collection has dropped over the last couple of years. This concerns me. So one of my goals for this school year is to get more kids reading. I hope to help them learn how to find books that they love and for them to keep searching for titles that speak to them. It is hard these days to get a handle on what the students are actually reading. Some are reading, but not books found in the PFTSTA library. When I quiz the students, I discover that they are buying books, checking books out from the public library, downloading books onto their devices and even listening to audio books that they download from the public library. Yes, I know that students are reading, and I am happy that they are finding good books, but not all of the students are choosing to read for pleasure. Okay, I know that I will never win over 100% of the student body, and I know the older students feel inundated with reading for their AP courses, but I have decided that I at least need to try and instill the reading bug in as many of them as possible. Whether they check out books from me or find them in other places, well whatever works, I can be content with that.

Caught Reading in the library: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
Last spring, I found librarian Tiffany Whitehead's post on running a reading challenge in her library. I thought that it sounded like a great idea, but I wasn't ready to put one in place at the time. I decided to start the new school year off with a fall reading challenge. I want to make it doable for a lot of the students. I really liked the challenges that could be tailored to each student so that I could run one challenge that would be suitable to both middle school and high school students and even staff members. You can see my challenge below.

The students have a little over five weeks to read five books. I do have a prize for all who finish the challenge. They will get one of the spirit sticks by Spirit Monkey declaring them a book-a-holic. When they complete the challenge, they will complete a google form with the titles and authors of the five books. I have told them that I am not giving a test or asking them to write about the books that they read. I am doing this on the honor system. I am not an English teacher, nor do I want to be. I don't even view texts in the same way that an English teacher does. I want the kids to read for enjoyment. Though some do find pleasure pulling a text apart to its core, and learning how to analyze texts is an important aspect of the Common Core State Standards, but we also need to read just for the sake of reading with no other purpose than loving the characters, getting swept up in the plot, or learning how to knit a scarf. I have an idea of how to spice up my winter challenge, but I will leave that to after the completion of this challenge. 

Caught Reading in the library: Artemis Fowl the Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer
My goal is for 50 students out of the 450 in the school to read five books in five weeks. I will certainly let you know the outcome. Let the reading begin!!!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

New Year, New Computers and Finally, Stools

This year, the students will be using Windows 7 on their school issued laptops rather than XP. The students new log in credentials will only work on computers running 7, and the library computers could not be upgraded. I will be getting some brand new desktops for the library, but until then, I have two computers set up for students. 


Last year after arriving in the new building, I set up the computers on the counter, but the students had to stand to use them. No stools were purchased to use at the counter. I waited a year and decided that stools were a necessity. The pictures above and below show some happy students using the library's resources. 

New 6th graders

Sunday, August 17, 2014

New School Year Begins With a Focus on Collaboration

The students first day of school was August 8th. Last year we had moved into the new building, and the library wasn't ready for prime time. I didn't open until August 22nd, three weeks after the start of school. This year, I had students in the library on the first day.  It was a soft opening, so the library wasn't over run with kids, but it was nice to have a functioning library on the first day of school.  

There are some changes in our district this year, and some of our schools are changing grade configurations.  That means librarians who are entrenched in elementary school now must serve middle school students in their libraries.  That is an issue because the library's resources were developed for grades K-5. It costs money to upgrade the resources for the additional grade levels. The other issue is how will these librarians serve the older students.  I got an email today asking me to share lessons that I teach to my middle school students. That is an interesting question. The librarian was hoping that I had lessons written out or worksheets or some program put together that I could send her for her new 6th and 7th grade students. 

6th Graders visit the library for orientation
You know, I just don't have a packaged program to send her. The reason I don't is because I collaborate with the classroom teachers on all my lessons that I teach. I want the students to have a purpose to use all the tools and resources that I demonstrate and share with them. If I teach them how to use a database, and then they never use it, my teaching is a waste of time.

At first, I thought that I had nothing to share with her. Then I realized that I document many of my lessons that I teach here in my blog, and I also have a page on the library website with classroom connections that has links to all the tools that I created for specific research projects. 

This is what I told her: 

"When I teach lessons to the middle school students, I always collaborate with the teachers. I do not teach anything in isolation. I see what the teachers need in terms of help with research, writing citations or using electronic tools to find and produce information. You can find links to some of the things that I created for classes hereUnfortunately, I don't have lesson plans or packets of activities for these students. 

Here is a blog post that I wrote about working with middle school studentsIf you put middle school or research into the search box on my blog you will find more posts where I talk about different lessons that I have taught over the years. 

I strongly believe that you need to work with the teachers so the students will have a chance to use in the classrooms what you teach in the library."

There are lots of great things that a librarian can do to support the academic program, but they need to work in a partnership with their teachers. If they do that, the students will benefit and become better seekers, users and producers of information. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Why I Love Teaching

Tomorrow I start my 34th year of teaching. Wow, that is a looooong time. You know what? I still love what I do. Part of the reason is because I have worked in several different schools at several different grade levels. By making these moves I have been able to stay fresh and interested, and I have also had to do a lot of learning along the way which to me has been energizing. 

Years ago when I told my principal of the elementary school where I had worked for 12 years that I was leaving and moving to a library position serving middle and high school, she asked me why. She said that she believed working with younger students was so much more rewarding for the teacher, and that teachers of younger students made a bigger impact on those students' lives than teachers of older students. 

I beg to differ on that point. 

This will be my 9th year at Patrick Taylor Academy, and over my time teaching there, I have served as a mentor for a number of students. Students who still call, text or Facebook me to ask my advice or tell me about the wonderful things that they are doing. I love having these lasting connections. 

The class of 2014 was a very special one. It was our first class to start in 6th grade and then graduate from 12th grade. Many of the members of the class were library kids who spent a lot of time with me over those seven years that they attended PFTSTA. I lost twelve members of the high school library book group, Bookmarked, with their graduation. At our back to school BBQ over the weekend, two of my very favorite alums from that class paid a visit. I hugged them and cried and told them how much they will be missed. I hope they believe me because it is true.

I also got something from them in return. I got two lovely notes expressing thanks and appreciation for what I did to help them through their career at PFTSTA. I hope that they don't mind if I share the notes here. These notes are why I wake up each morning and go to work. They give my job meaning and also lots of pleasure. 
To read the image above, you can enlarge it by clicking twice
Even though I have been teaching for more than three decades, I still feel that I have a lot to offer my students. I also have a lot more to learn because in the library every day is a new day. Here is to a new year, and I can't wait to see what new and exciting learning it brings to me and all of my students. 

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