Sunday, July 21, 2019

Keys to Success: the Freshmen Teacher Edition

Long, long ago in a classroom in Southern California, I began the next segment of my career as an educator. At present, I've been at VHS for 24 years. At that point, my new assignment was to teach freshmen Language Arts and I was thrilled; I love freshmen-- they are hilarious, generally energetic, and so much fun.
That first group of kids was everything I hoped to have in my class, and then some. Entering my classroom the first day was exciting-- I was ready to make connections, create a safe space for them, and teach them some of life's amazing lessons through literature. The kids were nervous as the first day of high school is for most students and I began my first day as I had the previous 5 years-- teaching kids about the Keys to Success using stories from life to help drive home the point that successful people have these qualities: Respect, Perseverance, Integrity, Honesty, Determination, Commitment, Positivity, Plan/Organization, Stick-to-itiveness Mindset, and Failure=Feedback.
Back to the present day, that amazing bunch of kids are now full-grown adults building beautiful, fulfilling lives.
Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting up with them at their 20th Reunion. It was so much fun-- lots of laughs, fun stories swapped, and a few tears.
More than a few told me that they had appreciated my efforts to help them, the lessons I taught, but most of all it meant so much that I cared for them. It was such a nice night. I'm so proud of all of you and thankful for your stories and good memories.
Thanks for the invitation! xoxo Ms. Steele

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Summer Loving - Reading, Resting, and Relaxing (2 YA book reviews)

Library life can be hard, I find it to be a little lonely at times and challenging in ways others don't understand. Decisions are sometimes made that have an enormous impact on what I'm needed to do and it has been extraordinarily stressful this year. All of which brings me back to summer. Ah, glorious summer, the time to rest, relax, and restore my soul.
 At this point, I should add a sound effect of an old vinyl album being scratched-- relaxation and rest are the hallmarks of my summer (usually), but this summer started with a trip to Washington D.C. for the Annual Conference and visit with my sister-in-law. It was a wonderful visit, but I had to endure a 14-hour journey via Southwest Airlines. Thanks to some crazy weather in DC, I got to fly from home to St. Louis, an extra hop to Chicago as they canceled my flight from St. Louis, and then to Reagan National Airport. It was the longest travel day I've ever experienced (yes, longer than our trip to France in 2013)!
 I had a great time with my in-laws Sharon and Mark as well as my conference pal Heather. The week included tons of books, reading, the amazing Scholastic literary luncheon, a trip to the Urgent Care (sis fell and needed stitches), and a glorious return to the Library of Congress. It was a terrific time with great food, family, a good friend, and books!

Heather and I managed to find the time to visit the Library of Congress-- such a beautiful building. As always, I leave wishing we had more time to spend in this amazing building. Next time, I'm definitely going to go and do some research.
I will need to get a new LOC library card-- they're only good for two years. So, it's time for me to get serious about the book that's in my head and needs to be researched/written. 
The LOC ceiling- gorgeous stained glass. 

The Year We Fell From Space, Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2019. 
I've been reading up a storm, I always come home from Annual with great books. This year was no different. My favorite (so far) is The Year We Fell From Space by Amy Sarig King. This was featured at the Literary Luncheon hosted by Scholastic Books. It features Liberty Johansen, her family, and spotlights mental health issues in a way I've never seen before.
Liberty's family is falling apart, her dad moves out (ostensibly to get his head together) and ultimately disappears, her little sister retreats from life, and mom is trying to hold them all together.
This book, meant for middle grades, is excellent. It is so relatable and leaves an indelible mark on your heart and a desire to make the world safer for anyone struggling with mental illnesses.
I have so much respect for A.S. King as she spotlights the need to de-stigmatize mental health illnesses and addresses it head-on. It's time to save the lives of teens and others who are most vulnerable. This book goes a long way to helping with that challenge.
"Stop the silence. Crush the stigma." 
A.S. King, Twitter post 06/23/2019

Scars Like Wings, Delacorte Press, October 2019.
This novel by Erin Stewart is a remarkable debut. Her protagonist, Ava Lee, is known by many names-- the "burn girl," survivor, "the one who lived," orphan, "Freddy Krueger," and invisible. Well, the last one is exactly what Ava would like to be. For the past year, since the fire that killed her parents and Sara, her only cousin/best friend, Ava has been at home or in the hospital recovering from the devastating burns. Her home is now with her Aunt Cora and Uncle Glenn who lost their only child. 
Early in the novel, she strikes a deal with Aunt Cora to return to high school for two weeks. On day one, she meets the bold, brash, Piper and Asad the only people who will look her in the eye and treat her without disdain, disgust, or pity. 
As time passes, Ava continues to heal and has opportunities to find her "new normal," she learns to look up from the floor and be there for someone else. It's a book of overcoming, acceptance and learning to love what is rather than wanting what can never be again. This debut is one that will have you alternately cheering and tearing up. Ava and her friends are unforgettable. 
Check back next week for more reviews. I love summer!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Renovation is Nearing Completion, Many Lessons Learned




We are nearly finished with our mini-renovation! Phew. It's been a long road-- it started 5 years ago when a newer colleague came to me and said she really saw my library and wanted to help turn it into a 21st Century space. This led to afterschool meetings with a few other teachers on campus to come up with an outline of what we wanted to accomplish.
First, we simply brainstormed. We just put a bunch of dreams on paper. First, new computers (both Mac and PC) to level the playing field for our kids who are affected by the digital divide by creating tutorials and help them earn their own devices, next we would expand our hours (necessitating additional staffing), free wifi for students to access within a 3-mile radius, and new modern soft seating. We priced it out and figured that $75,000 would help us get there.
Next, I set to work gathering the info needed to write the grant application. I wrote our first draft, shared it with the team. My colleague, Natasha, had several contacts that could help us get this grant request in front of some decision makers of a foundation. After numerous attempts and a re-write, the grant request was approved for 50% with the provision that we find matching funds.
That led to call a with a District administrator, I merely wanted to inquire as to whether we could get the District to match the grant. I figured that there was nothing to lose-- the answer would be no if I didn't ask. To my surprise, the answer was yes.
The District's "Yes" meant great changes to our vision and plan. Whereas Natasha and I were focused on bridging the divide, the administration had other ideas. Instead of the wifi, all new computers, and additional hours and staffing, we would receive a few cross-platform devices, numerous TV screens, a Google Jamboard (which is an awesome device), soft seating, and new tables and chairs. Additionally, we would remove our large circulation desk, and more than a few sections of shelving (along with the books housed there).
So, to make a long story short, we compromised (not really an option not to) and will have to write another grant to get the rest of what we envisioned. But, this next time we will enroll the administration in our vision (it will help that we won't likely experience a change in administration in the very near future). Second, I will better communicate my intentions and plans before I put all the work into it. Plus, I have a plan in case a grant is not immediately successful; it will be a lot of work. But, it will be worth it to see kids with the tools they need to further their skills and provide more career and college options.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Busy times

Crazy Busy Days
Like every other Teacher Librarian I know, it has been crazy busy this fall. I had hoped to blog more but, holy cow, it's been completely impossible this fall! The last 5 months have been so far BEYOND my norm.
Here are just a few things that happened:
  1. The library was renovated in 4 weeks time.
  2. We barcoded 18k textbooks- my administration gave me 3 days of pay...
  3. New Orleans
  4. Omaha for the College World Series (my team won! Go Beavs!!!)
  5. Grandson's birthday- his first
  6. We handled centralized textbooks for the first time in close to 40 years.
  7. Half of our students did NOT attend registration meaning we had soooo many textbooks everywhere, and did I mention that summer school was in the library until August 13?
  8. The renovation that was given 10 days time had no wiggle room for error - the bulk of the furniture didn't come until after the school year was 3 weeks in!
  9. And, and, and... you get the picture. 
We are closing in on the renovation being completed, we still need our circulation desk(!). You can see a few pics on the Instagram account, Valencia Library & Tech Hub (@valencialibrarytech).

CSLA Presentation- 25 Tech Tools for Teaching & Learning
I used Book Creator for my presentation on October 13 (Thanks for the idea, Jane Lofton!), you may access it below. You may also access the sites via this Padlet. I will add a doc there that will have a plain list of the sites and extensions that I spotlighted at CSLA.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Changes, changes, and more changes!

Students de-stress by tackling one of our mini puzzles. (pardon the crummy pic- I took it through my office window). They were just so engrossed, I didn't want to miss it. 

 Change is the Word! 

Change is coming-- but, for the past 14 years, I have enjoyed having our preschool students come in and read, have storytime, and learn to love books and reading. 

 This year started as the last 14 years have begun-- me staring at a mountain of tasks with 3 days to get it all done. But, we all know that the mountain always changes as we make our way through the tasks. As soon as a few things are completed, more is added. Like all of you, we just plug away at it. So, the year started, I was excited to see what a new Principal would bring to the school where I've spent the past 23 years.

Things were humming along, changes were looming and that meant more work. But, all this was good stuff. A colleague and I had written a grant and finally gotten it funded!  Yay! The grant was for $35,000 and $35,000 matching funds from my school district. The district funds were used to purchase additional technology- one of my primary goals was to give our students an opportunity to use various platforms and be more college and career ready. We are developing a badging system and are looking for additional funds to purchase small devices so that students who complete the modules and work as a peer mentor can earn a device of their own.

Our school population is extremely diverse, we are an International Baccalaureate school as well as an AVID demonstration school (one of just 16 in the state of California), and we have every kind of kid in between. The word "diverse" hardly seems to cover our situation. Our IB kids come primarily from the more affluent part of our district and have all the tools they need and more to be successful, but the majority of our students are on free/reduced lunch and struggle financially. They come from hard-working families who are just getting by with multiple jobs and lesser education.

My partner in grant writing, Natasha Ulibarri (French teacher), and I really saw a gap in our programming and thought that by bringing our old Library Media Center to the 21st Century we could serve all our students and help bridge the gap. We are planning to write another grant to make the rest of that happen. With additional funds, we will be able to extend our hours and provide transportation for the students who need it most. They will get additional tech training and leave school with more skills readying themselves for positions that require keyboarding and proficiency with various technology tools and programs.

The plan also called for our students to assist in making the physical changes. The BITA kids came in and helped remove the shelving units to help us save a bunch of "shekels." They were also able to do it so that we will get to re-use the shelves in other spaces in the library and campus.

Now that you know the background, let's get back to the fall when everything was beginning to take shape. We had confirmation that the funds were coming, we shared our tech wishes, and waited for approval. My new Assistant Principal had a different vision for the space-- much, much different. He's a bigger picture guy-- he imagined several screens located around the space, a new/smaller circulation desk (relocated) and about 4500 fewer books in the library. I dreamed of new computers in the lab as well as the new tech center/pairs to provide the varied platform experience. He also wanted all new furnishings! POW! I was completely gobsmacked! That was miles away from what I had considered-- I never thought we would be allowed new furnishings just 9 years after the first mini-renovation (new tables/chairs, lighting, and carpet.) The new design calls for tables and chairs with casters to allow for quick changes of the floorplan for activities. (Below is just one rendering of thousands of possibilities.)

Purge-Fest 2018

So, that's the direction we are traveling. When I first arrived, I was terribly reserved in my weeding. as I'm not deeply steeped in nonfiction-- I know how to use it for research but my first love is and will always be fiction. So, how to go about weeding 4,500 books to make room for the new tech centers? As a veteran Teacher Librarian, I've honed my skills in weeding. I'm fairly ruthless-- if it hasn't checked out in 5 years it's likely going to be set free and re-homed. I had let the nonfiction section slide in many areas, but no more.
I love giving books away-- and let me tell you the students went wild!

The purging didn't end with books, we had many years of stuff to go through to make room. That included the sacred collection of National Geographic magazines. Our collection goes all the way back to 1907 and in the unbound section there were many duplicate issues! I gave away many duplicates to staff, but was left with a closet full of them. I saved the leather-bound years 1907-1953, but had to release the rest.

I also had classroom materials that I had saved through the various times my Teacher Librarian position was at risk. My library also serves as our staff club storage area-- we host a number of events for staff throughout the year and that means food serving utensils, paper goods, decor, and so much more. So, we had a lot to move out of here. 
I didn't get rid of the items at left-- those went into my "treasure box." Some classroom decor and my first and second Nancy Pearl Librarian Action Figures. 

Over the years, I've been reducing the equip-ment as things become obsolete (it was just a couple of years ago that AP Spanish was still using battery operated tape recorders). I found and tossed many obsolete tech things in our back room - old manuals and diskettes from Windows 95.
Now, we are down to just a few random things-- I have a funny looking, electric book eraser that looks like it's from the 50's. I cannot bring myself to pitch that one. I even have a box of the erasers that fit into it.

Here's the blank canvas -- next fall it should look much different.
The last change is that our preschool program will be removed from campus and replaced with an education pathway. Students will instead be given the opportunity to work at the closest elementary, and middle school to learn about Teacher Education as a career. Sadly, this means I have just one more storytime with the munchkins. But, I am working on some nearby preschools and seeing if I can have them come in periodically. This age group is so fun to interact with-- those days are my favorites each month. They are so excited and have soooooooo much energy. 

Well, you're caught up now, although there's been so much going on and I didn't even scratch the surface. Check this space for more details and tech tips as I will be going like gangbusters in the coming months. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Wonderful Surprise

This year has been an incredible whirlwind! It might be the craziest year in my career - no easy feat, let me tell you! Between getting a small article in School Library Journal, 7 weeks of jury duty, a new baby on his way to our family (first grandchild), Mock Trial/FBLA challenges, and all the rest filling up my life it is hands-down the weirdest year yet.
Then this happened... I guess I should start with the beginning. Four years ago, I saw a Little Free Library; I was smitten. I simply had to have one. I looked around at plans, nagged my hubby, then had the bright idea to have the kids in our BITA (Building Industry Technology Academy) program build one for me. 
My Little Free Library has been such a bright spot in my life. Neighbors from near and far come by and have told me how much they love it! It has created a wonderful connection where there was once none. I have had letters dropped by, bookmarks, and books (of course). 
One day, we came home to some young kids and they had a red wagon; they had taken it upon themselves to tidy it up and suggest that I add another shelf. The youngest, a 5-year-old suggested that I build another one for little kid's books. 
There was an article in the newspaper which really drove up the numbers of people stopping by to check it out, everyone taking and leaving a book or two. It has been a wonderful experience. 
Most recently, I had to wipe out the collection and begin afresh. With all the rain this year in Southern California the library had sprung a leak and books had mildewed. So, we are rebuilding the collection but will have it ship-shape in no time. 
This week, our Little Free Library won an award! The Orange County Reading Association selected my LFL to win the Celebrate Literacy Award. Isn't that nice? It was such a nice way to end the school year.