Three years ago, the idea of applying for the National School Library of the Year Award through AASL seemed distant. The school librarians at Calvert County Public Schools (CCPS) in Prince Frederick, Maryland, were doing great things in the district. Our school librarians were incredible assets to our buildings. But the question was still there: Were we ready to apply? Fast forward through a lot of thinking, changes, curriculum development, and strategic planning to the fall of 2020. We were finally ready, and CCPS began the process of applying for the National School Library of the Year Award for 2021.
The 2020-2021 school year was unusual to say the least. March of 2020 saw an abrupt shut down of buildings. There was a pivot to virtual learning. Our fall started virtually. Students returned to the classrooms in a hybrid fashion in the winter of 2021. Throughout this tremendous time of changes and pivots, the school librarians of Calvert County Public Schools stayed on top of the shifting trends. They navigated the changes to the routine, the schedule, the learning resources! In short, they stayed at the top of their game! This shift in our routine changed the way we approached the application process. For example, we had to record on Teams some of our lessons to show our teaching, and we had many more virtual examples to share with the application committee than we probably would have in a “normal” year. We also had to think of ways to approach showing the mastery of the keystones by thinking outside of the traditional way that the library ran prior to COVID.
The application process included district information, a variety of reports on the school library, and information on the library collection. But, more importantly, it also focused on the six Shared Foundations. These foundations are the focus of everything that we do in Calvert County Public Schools libraries. All 22 of our school librarians are well versed in providing instruction, which includes the Shared Foundations. We felt like sharing our work through the Shared Foundations was a way we could shine and built our application around the foundations. Linked in the sidebar, you can see the public web pages for each of the keystones. In CCPS, we truly believe that all students should see themselves in the library collection, on the library walls, and in our spaces both physical and virtual. That is one of the reasons why in our interview we emphasized our diversity audits and how we are working to curate our library collections so that they are inclusive of everyone who uses the library. We truly feel that all are welcome and shared that we even kick off our kindergarten lessons with the book All Are Welcome by Alexandria Penfold. Our libraries build community.
One of the award committee members shared that one thing that really set us apart was that in speaking with the team the committee could tell that we truly were a team. It’s true. For the past several years, we have been fortunate enough to be able to have quarterly or monthly meetings for the entire team. During these meetings, we have revised curriculum, discussed best practices, and created a road map for our school libraries. Because we had this time to work together and collaborate, our program grew stronger each year. During the pandemic our team meetings became a weekly occurrence via Microsoft Teams and quite honestly one of the highlights of the week. Having each other to share and troubleshoot with became something we all relied upon.
Another award committee member noted that our district has some amazing partnerships. It’s true! We were the second district in the state of Maryland to provide every student with a public library card that was completely fine free and allowed access to print and digital material. We partner with our public library for programming and summer reading. Prior to Covid-19 we were able to run a bus after school for our teens, as part of our public library partnership. This bus took students from their high school to the public library. It enabled our teens to use the young adult area of the public library and participate in programming for teens from the public librarians that extended beyond the school day. That’s just one of the partnerships.
The star of the show, however, were the students! Our students showed up for our interview and brought tears to the eyes of the school librarians when they spoke about the impact that the librarians and libraries had on their lives. Students from 2nd grade to 12th grade came to speak on behalf of our school libraries. We are so very grateful for the amazing students who give us an incredible reason to do what we do every day!
We are incredibly humbled and honored to have been chosen among the finalists for the National School Library of the Year Award. And to win the award? That was even more humbling! Our superintendent, Dr. Daniel Curry, had this to say, “We are so honored to have earned this award. We believe students should see themselves and have a sense of belonging – and what better place for that to happen than in the school library? I am very proud of the hard work that our school librarians do and how they shine such a positive light on our district and to provide a sense of belonging for everyone who walks through the school library door – whether in person or in their virtual library.” A special thank you goes out to the AASL, the committee, and Follett for sponsoring the award. We cannot wait to display that amazing crystal obelisk for all to see when they visit.
Keystones – Shared Foundation Public Pages
Author: Jennifer Sturge
Jennifer Sturge is a Specialist for School Libraries and Digital Learning for Calvert County Public Schools. She has been an educator and librarian for 26 years and is always looking forward. She is a member of ALA and AASL and is President for the Maryland Association of School Librarians for 2020-2021. She is a 2017-2018 Lilead Fellow. Most recently she is the chair elect for the Supervisor’s Section of AASL. She is diligently working on her doctoral studies in leadership at Point Park University in Pittsburgh.