Sunday, August 30, 2015

Katrina Ten Years Later: My Story

This is the story of how Hurricane Katrina ten years ago affected my professional life, as I remember it. I totally understand if you have no interest and want to skip this post. You have my permission to stop reading right now. 

I need to actually start in 2003. In spring of that year, I made the decision to leave the elementary school where I had been librarian for twelve years. It was an extremely hard choice to make. I loved the students and parents at that school. I believe that I was made to sing, dance, use puppets, and voices to bring books to life for the younger set. I had developed a program where I taught information literacy and library skills in a very systematic way to the students. I loved what I was doing and was extremely proud of my program, One of my good friends worked in a school of 1500 students in grades 7th -12th. The other librarian, who was also a friend, was retiring. If I did not move at this time, I might not ever have a chance to work with Jo Ann again. 

My friend Jo Ann had been at McMain for about nineteen years, and she had helped to develop a wonderful teaching library at that school. I was shaking in my boots to work with that age group, but I knew that it was a good move for me. It would give me a chance to learn and grow. When I arrived in August of 2003, I found the most awesome group of teachers, many today are still friends, and a group of kids who loved the library. We had the best time working together, and we also had a full time clerk who had been there over ten years. That library was a well oiled machine, and I could help move it forward into the digital age as technology was one of my strong suits. 

In May of 2005, we were hit with a time bomb. The new principal informed us that the Orleans Parish School Board had decided that all the schools in the district could manage with only one librarian. The school board did not care about the size of the student body. That meant that I was out because Jo Ann was the senior librarian. Let me tell you, that library and the program there was amazing. However, the library was designed like a bowling alley, and there was no way possible that one person could teach, serve 1500 kids, and manage it all by themselves. 

I wanted to be pro-active, so I found a very small elementary school close to home that was without a librarian. I asked for that position and got it. When school started in August of 2005, I was working at Bauduit Elementary. Then on Friday, August 26, 2005, I found out that the school board was going to change their position on only one librarian. All the schools with over 1000 students would get their second librarian. I was thrilled. At the end of the day on the 26th, we were told to leave the computers on in the school because IT would be working on them over the weekend. At that point, no one was thinking that Katrina would be heading our way.

Saturday morning I woke up early and went to the bookstore where I was scheduled to hold a story time. There were only a couple of kids there with their parents. Everyone was talking about the hurricane named Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico, but most were up in the air about the need to evacuate. My husband and I were going to wait until the afternoon when I returned home to make our final decision. He was going to go to the grocery to stock up on food while I told stories. 

Find out more about Tisserand;s book here

Early Sunday morning we did evacuate to New Iberia, LA. It was in New Iberia that I became the resident story teller for Sugar Cane Academy, the school created by Paul Reynaud. He had evacuated to the same house as us. One of the parents wrote a book about that experience of starting a school from scratch. You can see the cover of the book in the picture above. Being a part of Sugar Cane Academy brought me back to elementary school, and it kept my mind busy so I worried less about the future. 

At some point in August or September, all the teachers in Orleans Parish were dismissed from their jobs. I had no clue what I was going to do next. I had a house in uptown New Orleans that did not flood and had very little damage. I had a home where I could return but no way to make a living. For a few months I worked part time at Sugar Cane Academy when it moved to digs at Loyola University in New Orleans.

After losing their teaching jobs, many of my friends with twenty or more years in the system decided to retire, including my friend Jo Ann who worked at McMain. In November, I got a call from Orleans Parish Schools. McMain was going to open in January of 2006, and I was asked if I would be the librarian. I needed a job, so I said yes, Many of the teachers returned but not all. The school opened in January with about half of the original population and students who had attended almost every other high school in the district. 

I could manage the library with 800 kids in the building, but there was a new administration hired to run the school. This was the fourth principal since I started at McMain in 2003. This principal and her assistants were not familiar with a busy library where the librarians served as teachers. I realized early on that I needed to find somewhere else to work that would allow me to be the professional librarian that I knew I could be. 

Library at Patrick Taylor Academy on Jefferson Highway in Jefferson, LA

In April of 2006, Jefferson Parish schools was expanding the number of advanced academies in the district. There were several librarian openings. I felt confident that I could run a library serving middle and high students on my own. I had learned a lot in the three years that I had been at McMain. I interviewed and within a day or two I got the phone call offering me the job at Patrick Taylor Academy in Jefferson. 

I just began my tenth year at Patrick Taylor three weeks ago. I have watched it grow from 178 students serving grades 7th-10th to its present 550 students in grades 6th-12th. The school is now located in a brand new building in Avondale, LA which is thirty minutes from my home. 

Library in the new building in Avondale, LA

I feel like this school is my second home. I am definitely one of the old guard there, and I have worked with every single student who has graduated from Taylor. Yes, my life has truly changed because of Katrina. In some ways, my life has taken a turn for the better that would never have happened otherwise. Thank you goes to Kristy Philippi, the principal of Taylor who hired me, and also to the current principal, Jaime Zapico,who has the confidence in me to support all the library programming ideas that I believe the school and the students need. 

Life goes on.................................

8th graders enjoying books in the library
(photo by KVR photography)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Symbaloo Helps Teachers & Students Get Organized

PFTSTA teacher Symbaloo
I am an organizing freak. Though my desk may not always be neat as a pin (I run a very busy library), I usually can put my hands on exactly what I am looking for whether it is in print or in electronic format. My belief is that it is my job as a librarian to help everyone else in the school to be organized too. Which is why I love curation tools so much including Wikispaces, Livebinders, Diigo, Sqworl, Pinterest (unfortunately blocked at school), etc. 

I learned about Symbaloo years ago at a librarians' conference but never really used it. Then at ISTE in 2014, I went to a poster session on Symbaloo. I was convinced that it would solve a huge problem at school. PFTSTA is a one to one laptop school, and the teachers try to teach with the least amount of paper as possible. As such, there are many, many on-lines google forms and responses, links, websites that are used on a daily basis by the faculty and staff. At the beginning of last year, I created the Symbaloo webmix that you can see above for the teachers to use as the homepage for their browser. I have gotten many positive responses about it. 

The teacher Symbaloo webmix is organized to find all the links that teachers need very quickly. The ones in blue in the upper left corner are all those pertaining to the school. It begins in the far corner with ECHO which is the school's learning management tool. We create many google forms some for student infractions, and links to those forms including links to the resulting responses are in the Symbaloo too. Then in the upper right corner in yellow are all the links that have to do with the district, in the lower right in red are the links from the state department of education and those involving the teacher evaluation, and finally in the lower left in green are all the sites either produced by the library or are essential library resources. Having everything in one place in such a visual format makes teachers' jobs easier. 

PFTSTA Student Symbaloo

This year, I decided to create a Symbaloo webmix for the students to use as their homepage. I organized it the same way as the teachers. The school links are in blue in the upper left corner, in green in the lower left are the library links and links to the subscription databases. On the right are resources that many students are expected to use. In orange in the lower right are links to finding images that are royalty/copyright free. The students have told me that they love this page because it contains everything that they need for school. Since the laptop program has not rolled out yet this year, I don't have any statistics on subscribers for this Symbaloo yet. I have emailed all the students the URL and have encouraged them to start using it. 

The teacher webmix was originally created just for me, but I shared it because I thought it would be a helpful tool. So in its first configuration, I had links to all the tools that I use, and that list was getting longer and longer. I decided to move those links off and created a Symbaloo just for the links related to the library and librarians that I use frequently.

Royalty Free Images Symbaloo
Above is the webmix that I created for the students to help them find royalty and copyright free images. There is one subscription database linked there, Encyclopedia Britannica Image Quest, but all the other links are free to use with attribution. 

Recently, I watched a webinar presented by rock star librarian, Shannon Miller. She used a Symbaloo webmix to share all the resources that she presented in the hour session. I thought that was a great idea. So I am in the process of developing one for a presentation that I am going to make for a Louisiana school librarians' conference. I will share that link and more about the presentation in a later blog post. 

Tips and tricks for using Symbaloo:
1. Very often when you are saving a link, a picture will pop up that you can use to populate the tile in the webmix. Sometimes the pictures are too small or just don't work on the tile. When that happens, I use the snipping tool on my PC to capture the logo or name of the site that I am linking too. You can easily upload that image into your tile. 

2. If you do not have a good image to upload, there are a variety of stickers and badges within Symbaloo that you can use to make your tiles look appealing. The students love the idea that Symbaloo looks like a bunch of apps. It 's visual nature makes them want to use it. 

3. Be sure to save after you create each tile or edit your tile. When I first started using Symbaloo, I sometimes forgot to save and would lose a lot of hard work. 

4. Once you click share your webmix, your Symbaloo is ready and can be viewed by anyone. If you add my webmix to your group of webmixes on Symbaloo, it will have a lock icon. That means every time I update the webmix, you will get all the changes and edits that I make. If you want to save my webmix, but also have the ability to edit it and make changes that fit your school's needs, you can select stop updates. Once you have selected that option, the webmix is yours to do what you want with it. You will not get any more of the edits or changes that I make in the future. 

5. There is a bit of a learning curve to get all the nuances of creating a webmix. Once you figure it out, you will realize that this is a wonderful tool to keep all your links organized. In the end that saves you a lot of time, and I am all for saving a little time. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

First Week of School and the Library was Hopping

First check out for the new year
Okay, I had an idea for a post where I had some pithy comments to make about the opening of the new school year and the library. Since I have been too busy to sit and write, I decided that I would post pictures of our first week showing you the students' interest in the library. It was overwhelming to me. I just want this excitement for the library to last all year long. That is why I spend a lot of time programming for the high school book group, the middle school book group, author visits, skype visits, Teen READ Week, Teen Tech Week, reading challenges, National Poetry Month, and on and on. 

Thanks to Donor's Choose the library got a Lego Station
The new Lego Station  has already seen lots of use

One of the 8th graders who has spent every day at lunch in the library since 7th grade
Chess continues to be a much loved game at lunch time
Luckily, the library has six sets

Library orientation for 6th grade on the third day of school

There are always some diehards who pull out the Dungeons & Dragons game every year
I had a wonderful summer break and spent quality time reading and relaxing. Now that I have been back to work for two weeks, I am so glad to be spending my days with the marvelous kids who attend Patrick Taylor Academy. It is a wonderful school, and the library here is a special place where students can fuel their passions, learn, and experiment, and be accepted for who they are. Can you tell that I love my job?

Excited about the books nominated for Teen's Top Ten

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Students Begin on August 10th

PFTSTA Library
All Readers Welcome

In just two days, I will begin my 35th year of teaching and 10th year at Patrick Taylor. No longer am I nervous like I was so many years ago. Now I am brimming with excitement about all the special events that I have planned in the library this year and all the new books that may come our way as the year unfolds. 

To get ready for the new year, I began cleaning up the library website. There are always edits and updates that I want to make. I am anticipating changing the look of the website, but I want to gather some new pictures before I do that. One of the sections of the website that I am most proud of is the one offering assistance to the students in preparation for college applications. You can find a link to that page here

Finding authors to visit or skype with takes time because of all the scheduling logistics. The sixth and seventh graders will meet Jewell Parker Rhodes in October. This will be her third trip to our school, but the first in our new building. She has been a real friend to our students and our school, and I can't wait to see her again. I have one skype visit scheduled for the middle school book group in September, and I am working on one for the high school book group, too. Last year I wrote two Donor's Choose projects to get books for the middle school book group. I am not sure if I will do that again. The other day I decided to use my Scholastic Dollars from last year's book fair to purchase fifteen copies of a book for the book group. 

Legos Poject from Donor's Choose

I had posted a thousand dollar Donor's Choose project last school year to start a makers space in the library. It did not get fully funded. I was not sure what happens to the money that is donated to your classroom. Now I know. Once my unfunded project expired, I was sent gift cards by the donors to use as I saw fit. I only had a couple of weeks to use the cards. I quickly rewrote my mobile makers space project to include the Legos and not any of the expensive electronics, and I made sure the total cost of the project added up to the total that I was given in gift cards. As soon as Donor's Choose approved of my project, I spend the money. Last week the items arrived, and the materials will be available for the students to use from day one. 

At the end of the school year, all the teachers recieved a $25 gift card to Walmart for Teacher's Appreciation Week. I decided to visit the store to buy some things for the library. I was able to find two new games to add to our collection. I will need to learn how to play them, but the kids are willing to learn alongside me. 

Of course, there are new books to add to the collection. I placed an order in May to be delivered in July. These include all the books that were nominated for YALSA"s Teen's Top Ten. Voting opens soon so I need to make a display of those books ASAP. 

For two days before teachers reported to school, I helped with our school's orientation for new teachers. I got to talk about all things library. I also made a 30 minute presentation to returning faculty during our professional development prior to the opening of school. Last week I was bombarded by the teachers about projects that they are planning in which they want me to collaborate. I love that. It means that I have trained them well. 

I am ready for another school year to begin. One aspect about the library that really appeals to me is that no matter how much you plan, something fun and exciting for you and the students could be lurking around the corner at any time. 

"You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve." - quote by Ginny WeasleyHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling
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