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At first, there was collective exhaustion and the hope that we would return to normal after April break. Flash forward to now, just four weeks later, and much has changed. Nearly daily e-mails from our superintendent and principal have lessened. We know that we will not be returning to school this year. We have been teaching and learning from home for a month, so we have found our new rhythms and our new “not normal” normal. It’s sinking in for seniors that the rituals associated with their graduation will not take place in the way they had expected. So what are the highlights?
Still Sending Books Home
We are able to access the library once per week during a time when there are no custodial staff in the building. Beth Chamberlin, the library assistant, and I alternate visits to fill orders we receive from students. We sanitize each book, place it on a freshly sanitized table, then let the books air dry, and put the stack in a plastic bag (see previous post about this system). Initially, books were being delivered by school bus to homes, but we were soon asked not to overtax that system. Students come pick up their bag of books outside the front entrance of the school. We are not accepting returns at this time.
Our meal delivery system caught the attention of a local reporter, and she wrote a follow-up story about our procedures for sending books home. You’ll see that a lot has already changed since the article was posted.
Virtual Book Club
We have had two virtual Diverse Perspectives book club meetings by Zoom. Our theme for March was “choose-your-own” diverse sci-fi and/or fantasy titles. We agreed that we wanted more fantasy, since reality felt more like a dystopian novel, and chose V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic for April. Since our public libraries are closed, some members listened to it on audio, while others ordered an e-book or paper book copy from Amazon or a local bookstore. Still in the mood for this genre, the group selected This Is How You Lose the Time War (El-Mohtar and Gladstone) for our May meeting.
Virtual Lunch in the Library
For our lunchtime “regulars” we host weekly Zoom lunches! We reach out by e-mail to a specific table or friend group who like to eat lunch together in the library to invite them to meet up virtually during the lunch break in their day. For some groups it’s an irregular meeting, once every few weeks, but one group has a standing Thursday lunch date. They like it so much that they asked if we could meet during April break!
Many publishers have temporarily adapted their copyright policies to allow for live and recorded readings (see list and details here). Four weeks ago, I began a daily reading of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone (#harrypotterathome), posting a chapter-a-day to an unlisted YouTube playlist. This playlist link is posted in our ESVM Library Schoology group. The link has been shared internally in our district, and in a few cases, a request has come from an alumnus to have access to the playlist. I have had several e-mails from students thanking me for doing this, and one middle-schooler who started listening to my readings and has gone on to read the whole series. Virtual connection to current, past, and future students, inspired by a global pandemic!
I also began a playlist of “Stories for Littles”–picture books from my personal library. At first, I was thinking of this as a support for my colleagues with young children at home. I shared the unlisted playlist with a handful of individual teachers. But then I realized that many of our students are caring for younger siblings at home, and the playlist of stories might help give them a break as well. That playlist is now also posted inside our ESVM Library Schoology group for students to access.
The real work of the library was, and always will be, the relationships. We continue to reach out by e-mail to our “library family,” and actually identify it as such. At this moment of uncertainty and change, these notes of support and acknowledgment offer our students a type of virtual community. At first, we were most concerned for our at-risk students, but soon we realized that in some ways, all of our students are at-risk in this “new normal.” Each e-mail includes some copy/pasted information about how to stay connected with the library on virtual platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Schoology). But we always add something personal—a memory of the student in the library, asking about the puppy or the cats, or inquiring about how it is to have an older sibling back from college. Our e-mails are invitations to continue to be part of the ESVM Library community. Our e-mails let our students know we are still thinking of them, that we miss them, and that we are available for support. Beth created a spreadsheet to track who each of us was writing to, with the date, and we have a color-code system for when a student replies.
2020 Maine Books Challenge
Four weeks ago I was invited to collaborate on an awesome initiative by an organization called Educate Maine. The goal is simple: during this pandemic, get books into the hands of Maine kids in need of books in their homes AND support our Maine independent bookstores! (Read some local press here, and learn about the specifics of the challenge here.) Educate Maine is an organization that works to connect the sectors of Maine business, education, and legislation, and they are also a major sponsor of the Maine Teacher of the Year program, which is how I am connected to them. I am working to coordinate the donations that are coming in for Knox County with local bookstores and schools. Follow the 2020 Maine Books Challenge on Instagram!
I have been sewing cloth masks from friends and family, and suggest a donation to this worthy cause instead of payment. I love the idea that the cloth mask I’m sewing for a loved one will magically turn into a book for a child in need!
We don’t know. We know there is a lot of collective grief that our community is struggling to process–without our usual in-person networks of support. We will return to remote school following our April break for a new 2020 spring term that is pass/incomplete (as opposed to pass/fail). Teachers will be able to enter numeric grades and students will merely see a P or an I. I continue to be proud of my district and building leadership for delivering the consistent message that our focus as educators should be on sustaining connections and engagement with our students. The decisions in our district are driven by a lens of equity, because we know that this situation is only magnifying the disparities between our students. In the word’s of Maine’s Education Commissioner, Pender Makin (April 8, 2020): “Please be kind and gentle with yourselves, give yourselves a break to recognize you are operating under an emergency situation. That goes for the parents, that goes for the educators, and for the kids.”
Author: Iris Eichenlaub
Iris Eichenlaub is the Librarian/Technology Integrator at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, Maine. She is the 2017 Knox County Teacher of the Year, and was named an Inspiring Educator in 2017 by the Maine Education Association. Iris serves on the board of the Maine Association of School Libraries as the chair of professional development. Follow the story of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Library via Facebook (@ESVMLibrary or https://www.facebook.com/ESVMLibrary) or Instagram (@ESVM_Library or https://www.instagram.com/esvm_library).