CENTREVILLE — Once a destination for individual study, media centers aren’t the quiet places they once were. In Queen Anne’s County Public Schools, they are becoming active learning environments that are safe spaces for students to engage in learning in collaborative ways.

Beginning with the Library Services at Kent Island High School, led by media specialist Christine Walters, spaces have been redefined to meet the needs of today’s students.

Upon entering, you will find an abundance of chatter within numerous student social groups, from independent learners to students seeking information about college classes, conducting research, running student clubs, engaging in technology assistance, working through study hall and as a large population of lunch crowds.

“Students are welcome before, during and after school to utilize the space as a resource center and a safe haven,” said Walters. “Different learning styles are supported in various areas of the library with flexible spaces for classes, small group collaborations, and quiet work areas to complete tasks.”

The resources offered at the high school level include print, audio and eBooks as well as research databases with 24/7 access. As the media specialist at KIHS for the past 10 years, Walters develops and maintains the collection of resources to support the curriculum, the students, teaching styles and instructional strategies used at the school. Her commitment to maintaining intellectual freedom and promoting the ethical use of information, in addition to providing students with the literacy skills in regards to information, media, research and digital citizenship is outstanding and its why students flock in masses to her space, said Michael Bell, supervisor of Visual and Performing Arts, World Languages and Media for QACPS.

“There’s a lot more to the job than most people understand,” Bell said. “At both high schools Mrs. Walters and Mrs. (Amy) Taylor (media specialist at Queen Anne’s County High) not only run the library and laptop management, they also provide instruction to classes, small groups, clubs and to individual students to support classroom projects. They are also their schools’ technology go-to. They help students and teachers with research strategies on finding reliable sources, creating citations, understanding copyright and fair use — all while instilling a love of reading and exploring literature. We’re even bringing our Visual Journaling movement that began in the art classrooms into School Library Media Centers K — 12. It’s exciting to see!”

A recent collaborative lesson between Walters and Dr. Beverly Wolff’s English IV class at KIHS provided the students the chance to explore British literature at a book tasting. Students sampled several British classics while enjoying a cup of tea.

The KIHS School Library Media Club has also added activities such as chess, board games, playing cards, checkers, coloring stations and makerspace as opportunities for students to de-stress and be creative.

The refreshing new look at both Smedia centers is similar to the paradigm shift happening in book stores nationwide, where collections are being reorganized by genre, and students are allowed to articulate their own reading preferences while encouraging conversations and peer-to-peer book recommendations.

Walters promotes the “love of reading” by hosting the Student Book Club. The club meets monthly to celebrate reading and to plan literary events. The book club recently hosted “Library Palooza” with rock painting, bingo, book raffles and guessing the book in jar contest. The Book Club is working in conjunction with the Happy Hat Maryland Project to make and provide yarn wigs to pediatric patients later this month.

The Research and Development Club for innovators to collaborate and build projects allows students to meet after school weekly in the makerspace area to brainstorm, design and create. The members of the club are looking forward to showcasing their projects later this school year.

At QACHS, Taylor — nominated by Bell in 2018 for a national librarian award — has also been transforming her space. She’s even created a section of books for Life Skills students. She did this through generating book donations.

“Many of these students benefiting from this section are nonverbal,” Taylor said, “so I’m particular about the content of the books.” These are books Taylor carefully hand-picked. Taylor also uses manipulatives, such as large puzzle pieces to expand students’ visuals within the library, in addition to running the school’s annual yearbook, so she gets to know so many of the great stories emerging within the school to share with the community.

This fall Taylor worked with all media specialists and media assistants K — 12, in addition to providing professional development on the National Education Program at the Library of Congress to all othe Social Studies teachers in QACHS.

Taylor was being selected from a pool of more than 280 applicants across the entire nation to participate in the Library of Congress’ Summer Teacher Institute in Washington, D.C. During each of the programs, participants worked with library education specialists and subject-matter experts to learn effective practices for using primary sources with their students. She was also able to explore some of the millions of digitized historical artifacts and documents.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.

Applicants hailed from 36 different states and the District of Columbia and they represented all grade levels, all subjects and work in metropolitan, suburban and rural school districts.

So, whether it’s a safe space, a makerspace, or a learning hub you’re looking for — explore the school library media centers for an exemplary model of what learning looks like in the 21st century, Bell said.

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