May 14, 2020

For school librarians, it's about all about 'staying connected'

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
Caption: Lyncourt Teachers Association member Jacqueline Derouchie, who chairs NYSUT’s School Librarian Committee, has an array of online resources she relies on to serve students. Photo provided.

As an elementary and middle school librarian in Lyncourt, Jacqueline Derouchie’s job had a rhythm: reading to students on a rug; finding books, games and crafts for them; and helping them with research, coding and technology.

But when the coronavirus pandemic shifted the world on its axis, closing schools, businesses and shops on many continents, school librarians had to begin making all things library available remotely.

Derouchie, who chairs NYSUT’s School Librarian Committee, now has an array of online resources she relies on to serve students.

She uses Britannica’s “launch packs,” which allow librarians to assemble a bundle of links to encyclopedia articles, primary documents and websites relating to a topic assigned by a teacher. If the subject is Ancient Egypt, Derouchie goes digging in the sand by way of computer.

She also has a set time each day when she is available on Google classroom for students to contact her for help with a project.

First graders, for example, were recently focusing on fairy tales.

She found an animated video of “Little Red Riding Hood,” performed a read a-loud of the book itself, and helped students identify the hero and the villain. (Hint: big teeth, bad breath.)

She finds more tools through Scholastic, which is currently offering free access to their database resources. Book Flix, for example, pairs fiction and nonfiction on a singular topic for students up to third grade. The fictional “John, Paul, George and Ben” by Lane Smith can be matched with a biography about Benjamin Franklin to students studying this historical figure.

Derouchie, a member of the Lyncourt Teachers Association, meets virtually with other school librarian representatives from four counties to share resources on a regular basis and keep updated. Like many of her colleagues, she also uses resources from Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES, which provides professional development for librarians.

Such a hefty shift onto online learning raises concerns about internet safety, and reliable resources.

“The librarians immediately recognized the need for increased student and staff training on appropriate and safe uses of online resources,” said Emily Roberts, a National Board Certified librarian with the Schenectady Federation of Teachers. “We put together a curriculum for online safety and etiquette for all students.”

The district’s librarians now have weekly virtual department meetings to discuss technology needs, student safety and the application and uses for current technology. Roberts become more informed about New York State student data and security procedures.

“This online delivery time has encouraged me to quickly learn laws and regulations to ensure that student data is securely protected online,” she said.

Working remotely, she uses SeeSaw (pre-K–2) and Google Classroom (3–5) to connect with students, after taking online training in the beginning of the shutdown to get better versed in their application.

When schools suddenly closed on March 13, librarians worked with the technology department to help distribute Chrome books to families who needed them, Roberts said. And while the district has a “lunch bus” that is driven around the city distributing breakfast and lunch to students, it also has a “technology bus” following along so school staff can distribute Chrome books to students in need.

Like many school librarians, she has also provided training for individual teachers by phone and in online meetings to assist them with this more advanced learning about databases and software.

Amongst her students, she said dozens of languages are spoken including Spanish, Pashto and Arabic. She said the ENL teachers are working closely with the classroom teachers to ensure that students and families are receiving access to materials and communications in their language.

Schenectady literacy specialist Rebecca Benjamin posts read alouds online through Google Meet, and also supplies students with digital reading resources. She finds phonics and remedial lessons to support student needs, posting lessons for specific groups of students with certain literacy needs.

Librarians have also developed creative ways to connect with students so that current learning involves more than facing a screen. Some have set up virtual book clubs. Some librarians are teaching students how to do book talks, to inspire their fellow students about why a particular book is worth reading. In Cortland, one school librarian started a pen pal club with her students when the pandemic hit.

“Most of my students had no idea what a pen pal was,” said middle school librarian Catalina Charles, a member of Cortland United Teachers. “They are writing back and forth with me, and I encourage them to write with others now that they know what a pen pal is.”

Derouchie hosted a pet day, where students held their pets up to the screen to show them to everyone in class.

“It’s about staying connected,” she said. “Initially, we built those connections in person. They love coming to the library to read, to learn how to code, even to play a board game. Technology can’t replace that in-person relationship. It’s hard to keep this up over an extended period of time. I miss seeing them, laughing with them, watching them grow. It’s about when you sit on the rug and talk to them about things.”