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King George High library is ‘active and lively’ place

King George High School head media specialist Melissa Campbell was named teacher of the year for her innovative approach in running the school's library which she refers to as a media center. One of her innovations is to allow students to use the media center during their lunch period.  Campbell (center) looks on as students Abigail Johnson, Mason Ludwig, Tyler Serpa,  and Johnathan Vass play the board game "Axis & Allies." (DAVE ELLIS / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

King George High School head media specialist Melissa Campbell was named teacher of the year for her innovative approach in running the school’s library which she refers to as a media center. One of her innovations is to allow students to use the media center during their lunch period. Campbell (center) looks on as students Abigail Johnson, Mason Ludwig, Tyler Serpa, and Johnathan Vass play the board game “Axis & Allies.” (DAVE ELLIS / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Sanctuaries of silence is how many of us think of libraries. That isn’t how the students of King George High School think of theirs.

“This one’s so active and lively,” said junior Alexis Schmidt. “I like it. I think it’s friendly.”

Students are creating presentations with Prezi computer software, playing Texas Hold’em, checking out John Green novels, getting markers from the supply table, being tutored and even eating barbecue pork sandwiches off cafeteria trays.

“The library used to be one of those quiet places, kind of like going into church, where it was like ‘shh, shh,’” Assistant principal Jennifer Collins said. “Well, it’s not like that anymore.”

In fact, it really isn’t the library anymore, said head media specialist Melissa Campbell. It’s a media center.

“Media center means all mediums,” she said. “It should be the hub of the school, all learning… through books, technology—for the teachers, for the students, for the admin, for the community.”

Campbell took over as head media specialist two years ago after teaching English at the high school. She wanted to wake up the media center and bring it into the 21st century, she said.

K.G. High principal Cliff Conway describes Campbell as “very technologically savvy.”

She has brought in laptops students can check out and use during the school day. She teaches students and staff about the latest technology and how to do research. She teaches kids how to use Google Docs and EasyBib, an app Campbell can’t imagine doing research without.

She has also made what could be considered a daring change by allowing students to bring their lunch into the media center during flex, a 55-minute opportunity for students to eat, do homework, make up missed assignments and work with teachers.

Campbell doesn’t know how common it is for high school students to eat lunch in a media center, but she said it probably doesn’t happen too often.

“However, we’re in a different day,” she said. “If we want them in here and we want them to learn… we have to grab them when we can, and that’s during our flex.”

Melissa Campbell  checks out a rubber band bracelet with students Kenley Green (left) and  Christian Lugo during the FLEX period. Campbell was recently named the division's Teacher of the Year for her innovations she has made in the library. (DAVE ELLIS / THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Melissa Campbell checks out a rubber band bracelet with students Kenley Green (left) and Christian Lugo during the FLEX period. Campbell was recently named the division’s Teacher of the Year for her innovations she has made in the library. (DAVE ELLIS / THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Kids will rise to your expectations, Campbell said. They haven’t had any problems since food was first allowed in the media center two years ago. Food and beverages are not allowed around the school’s computers.

Students have responded to the invitation. Upwards of 150 students pack the media center during the flex period on a typical day.

Ninth-grader Kaitlyn Ryan often eats lunch in the media center.

“My mom says you should go to the library because you meet cool people, and I do,” she said pointing out a bunch of her friends. “I love it here. They allow you to eat. It’s cool. It’s amazing.”

Campbell said when students are welcomed into the library, they come regularly.

“I mean, honestly, they’re here all the time,” she said.

There can be five to 50 students in the media center at any given time, Campbell said.

And, yes, high school students in 2014 still check out books. In fact, media specialist Melissa Moody said students take out “ridiculous amounts of books.” The former head librarian really fought to get money to buy new books, she said. They keep a running wish list of the books students want to read.

Whole classes also utilize the media center. It has two banks of computers, a seating arrangement of comfortable furniture for small groups and an area with tables, chairs and an LCD screen.

One class will be at the computers and one class will be at the tables. Campbell often teaches one of the classes as either a lead teacher or in collaboration with the visiting classroom teacher. Sometimes they squeeze a third class in if it can fit in the small group area, Campbell said.

Moody said after the pledge is said at 7:30 a.m. “it’s just this steady stream of craziness all day long.”

Campbell has also started a student leadership class. She works with students to prepare them for Standards of Learning and SAT tests. She can often be found doing tutoring and remediation.

“It gets busy,” she said. “I eat lunch standing up talking to the kids.”

She even helps them with college applications.

Jarod Watson, a junior, remembers when the media center wasn’t as busy.

“Freshman year there would always be people that would say, ‘Oh, I’ve never stepped foot in the library,’” he said. “But now we have more people who are like ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to go to the library to check out a book or hang out with friends.’”

Matthew Hall, a junior, can also tell the difference.

“Freshman year all these tables and chairs would be empty,” he said. “And now sometimes you can’t even get a seat because of how much everybody likes to come in here.”

Campbell’s leadership and innovative ideas were recognized in May when she was named the division’s Teacher of the Year. She is now a candidate for the Virginia Region 3 Teacher of the Year award.

“She has an ‘I believe in you and I won’t give up on you’ attitude about our students,” said assistant principal Collins, who was one of the people who nominated Campbell.

Campbell certainly doesn’t think she’s unique. “Everybody in this school’s job definition is ‘whatever it takes,’” she said.

Campbell has taught for 23 years. Ten of those years have been in King George County. She said the administration in the small school system is supportive of new ideas. They can try things and if they don’t work, they can modify them.

Still, it can be an adjustment for people who are used to a very quiet library, she said.

“But again it’s the purpose,” she said. “The purpose has changed. Times change. Education changes. We have to change with the times.”

Sara Backstrom is a freelance writer. She may be reached at localnews@freelancestar.com.

 

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