Three weeks ago, school districts across Missouri began announcing school closures as local government officials issued shelter-in-place orders. Even though many districts were on spring break at the time, school librarians began the work involved with moving their work online. They made new resource lists, updated their library websites, created video tutorials, and reached out to teachers via e-mail. They also started to think of creative ways they could connect with students to provide comfort and a sense of normalcy during this stressful time. In this blog post, I want to share some of the things my colleagues across the state are doing to serve their students in the age of COVID-19.
Rebecca Parker, Librarian, Border Star Montessori School, Kansas City Public Schools
Rebecca Parker’s urban Montessori serves students ranging from three years of age to sixth grade. When the school day ended on Thursday, March 12, there was talk of an impending closure due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Students were nervous. When school was canceled on March 13, Parker knew students must be even more anxious.
“I began planning over the weekend to do a virtual read-aloud starting Monday. I am good at soothing kids, and I thought seeing me would be reassuring. I was dead-set on having an interactive read-aloud,” Parker said.
After reviewing copyright, fair use, and recent changes to publishers’ permissions, Parker began exploring possible platforms for a virtual read-aloud. She chose to simulcast via Zoom and the parents’ Facebook Live page. Using both platforms would allow her to reach as many students as possible.
Parker’s one-hour read-alouds begin at 6:30 every evening. The first thirty minutes are devoted to a picture book. Those attending via Zoom can ask questions and talk while those participating through Facebook Live can type their questions for Parker to share. The second thirty minutes is devoted to the ongoing read-aloud of a chapter book.
“I formatted it this way so younger students could leave after the [picture] book and older students could come in at the 30-minute mark if they only want to participate in [the chapter book], but nearly everyone comes in at the beginning and stays until the end. I’ve had 30-40 participants each night, and even more watching,” Parker says.
Parker is pleased with the feedback she has received. “The parents and kids are thrilled to have this, and it helps me greatly. I need to know I am helping others, and this fulfills that need in me,” she says.
Megan Chambers and Amy Taylor, Librarians, Lee’s Summit West High School, Lee’s Summit School District
Megan Chambers and Amy Taylor are the librarians in a large suburban high school outside of Kansas City that serves approximately 2,000 students. In mid-March, they knew their district might soon close due to the coronavirus. Chambers, who also serves as the district’s secondary library department chair, organized a department meeting to begin making plans.
Taylor says, “The secondary librarians met Thursday morning to discuss things we could do to help in the event the district [decided to close]. We put together a one-page resource for teachers, focusing on creating something simple and easy to follow. We included information about what services we would be offering, how to access e-books and databases, online tutorials, etc. We sent that out in an e-mail on Friday. We also invited teachers to visit the library with questions and I visited some classrooms to make sure teachers felt comfortable with Schoology conferences and Google Hangout.”
Over the weekend, Taylor and a couple of the other secondary librarians chatted via text about the fact that many families in the district had canceled spring break trips and couldn’t visit local attractions due to virus concerns. To help families pass the time, they created this list of at-home resources that includes reading options, virtual field trips, and a weekly calendar of online events. Not only has the list been popular with Lee’s Summit families, but it has also been popular with librarians in other districts who have seen it on social media.
Now that distance learning is under way in their district, Chambers and Taylor are focused on supporting teachers and students. Not wanting to overwhelm teachers who are adapting to a new model of teaching as they juggle e-mails from students, parents, and administrators, Taylor says she and Chambers have decided to start by “sharing information but doing so in a manner that’s easy to digest and not overwhelming.” For now, that means sending an e-mail with a slide containing “two bits of information twice a week. Then a link to a slideshow with all the past slides.”
To connect with students, Taylor and Chambers recently hosted an online meeting of their student book club. The event gave the students a chance to see each other and to talk about the books they’ve read while they’ve been out of school. “They really seemed to enjoy getting together, even if it wasn’t in person,” Taylor said.
The Lee’s Summit West librarians know that as the situation evolves, so will the support that they provide to their patrons. They are ready to give whatever their students and teachers need.
Amy Hertzberg, Librarian, Nevada Middle School, Nevada School District
Amy Hertzberg serves approximately 600 students in grades 6-8 at her school in southwestern Missouri. Her district is offering resources for enrichment while schools are closed, but students are not required to take part in online learning or to submit work. So, Amy has been promoting e-books as well as reading events like Kwame Alexander reading Crossover on Instagram. But during this challenging time, she wanted to find a way to connect with students directly.
In addition to being the school’s librarian, Hertzberg is also the sponsor of Nevada Middle School’s student council. In that role, she works closely with the thirty-four students in that group. One of their favorite events during the school year is a monthly “family dinner” in the library, when the student council kids meet for lunch with Hertzberg.
Hertzberg says of the family dinners, “Some months the conversation is more serious than others. The students absolutely love it and remind me of it every month.”
Hertzberg says that once school was closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, “I knew that I missed seeing my kids so I tried to come up with a way that we could meet and just see each other. When I was deciding on a time to host a Zoom meeting, I decided on lunch. Bring your lunch and we will just talk.”
More than half of the student council kids attended the first Zoom lunch. Hertzberg says, “We spent time…talking about how they were doing. We talked about who had parents still working and who was at home. We talked about those that have parents in the medical field or one has a dad who is the manager of our local grocery store. We talked about how important they were to our community right now and asked the kids to pass on thanks to them. It was so good to see their faces, and I heard from parents they really enjoyed it too so we decided to make it a bi-weekly thing. We are meeting Mondays and Fridays as long as this lasts. I think it gives them something to look forward to.”
Hertzberg has come up with creative activities for some of the Zoom lunch meetings with her students. “I had the idea to try to convert some of our ice-breaker games into Zoom games just to mix it up a bit,” she says. “Yesterday we had a scavenger hunt. I pulled up a list for an in-door scavenger hunt off of Google. I would ask the kids to find something and the first person to show it to the camera got a point. At the end, the winner is going to receive a prize. I’m coloring a picture and sending it to the winner. It’s goofy but it will be fun when they open the mail.”
Although the pandemic and resulting school closure are undoubtedly stressful for many of Hertzberg’s students, her twice-weekly Zoom lunches provide a bit of fun and camaraderie. Students are bound to look back on them fondly in the years to come.
What about students who don’t have technology?
The commendable work that these librarians are doing involves technology, specifically a device and Internet access. That’s not surprising when we consider how much of the work we do at school requires technology. Moreover, it highlights why the equity work we do as librarians is so important. In my next blog post, I will share some librarian-created activities and resources that do not require technology.
Author: Margaret Sullivan
Margaret Sullivan is a librarian at Rockwood Summit High School and also serves as the Lead Librarian for the Rockwood School District. A past president of the Missouri Association of School Librarians, Margaret’s professional interests include advocacy, teacher collaboration, professional development, equity, and YA literature. You can connect with her on Twitter @mm_sullivan.