People who really know the impact of a school librarian, understand the enormous impact this special person can have on the lives of students. Kylie Parry @ParryKylie is one such very special librarian who works tirelessly to reach the hearts of her students at the Seatoun School, (located in a Wellington, NZ suburb).
I first met Kylie on a group visit to the school which was arranged by Fulbright NZ director Colin Kennedy. I felt instantly drawn to Kylie and really wanted to get to know her better. Yesterday I went back to her school to spend the day in the Seatoun library. When I visit a school library in NZ, I never know what nuggets I will take away so I do not ever try to guess what my experience will be that day.
Anyone who has ever worked in a library (or even a school) knows that it can be a very lively, organic place that takes a different shape each day, based on the energy, needs, and desires of its 'customers.' This day was no different...Kylie sat me down to ask me what some of my goals for the visit were. I was doing my best to explain (which is to learn what types of inclusive practices she has to make all students feel welcome) when in walked the administrator who handles the library budget. Oooh "library budget, that's music to my ears but I am digressing. I could see this lovely woman was holding a craft supply list. She had come to double check that the order was correct and in the process, Kyle demonstrated what all of the supplies would be used for. I was fascinated at her ability to find cool craft activities that would appear to 5-13 year olds and do-able for 30 minutes lunch sessions.
Crafts? Well yes, crafts. There are many readers that probably did not raise an eyebrow when I mentioned crafts supplies. But there are other readers that might be a bit surprised such as people who have their own fixed notion about what they think a school library is or should be and it's one that does not include crafts in their minds.
Like many kiwis I think Kylie is a "maker" at heart. People here have a lot of creativity and ingenuity. I think it has its roots in the scarcity of resources from war time, where there was a huge emphasis on conserving all resources, which in turn has evolved into a very practical minded, no waste mentality. In addition there is a strong environmental conservation ideal here which also calls for not using anything you don't need (such as bags in a store, receipts etc). When you couple this mindset with the high price of imported goods (although there is a significant amount of "cheap" import stuff here in Wellington similar to the Dollar Tree), I think the result is people that think creatively and try making their own stuff.
But back to my conversation about Kylie! She is not planning crafts activities with the notion of turning the kids into "makers" by having a maker space in the library. Kylie is planning these fun, creative ventures as a way to encourage the students to visit the library during their lunch period. This awesome librarian wants the all of the kiddos to think of the library as "a fun and safe place." Relationship building is a key component to Kylie's strategy to improve the students' love of reading, especially for those who might not be very keen on checking books out (beyond their weekly class visit checkouts).
Lunch time in NZ schools presents a unique opportunity to the school staff members who want to participate in offering a program to students. While I cannot vouch for all the schools in the country, I can say that all of the primary schools I have seen have one lunch period for approximately one hour each day! This gives the students time to eat their lunch, chat, play, and still have 30 minutes to do a planned activity. Different schools have different ways of planning for lunch programs and it would probably make a great inquiry project. But at Seatoun, the students who chose to come to the library during lunch, come from 1:00-1:30 pm (they eat from 12:30-12:45).
I never intended on writing and endless post and it breaks "all rules" of blogging but I suppose I am in the habit of explaining everything. The people of NZ are very patient and they are very good at explaining things to me and I suppose maybe I am becoming an explainer, or maybe I already was an explainer, I am not sure!
At any rate, the students waited eagerly outside for us to enter the library then Kyle gave a "senior student" the job of holding up an "OPEN" sign and inviting the excited students in! On this day, the students made metal creations using rainbow floral sticks, (that can be turned into just about anything with some creative twisting). My job was to give out the string as the young artists proudly finished their creations and "made them into necklaces and bracelets". As the students came to me, the each looked so proud of what they made and they explained what it was, and how they made it. They were simply filled with glee and pride.
This was a very fast moving half hour and there must have been nearly 100 kids in the library! Kylie's mission is very successful. Her customers are extremely happy and leave the library feeling good about themselves. And tomorrow, if all of the same students want to come again and do the same thing, they are invited! Kylie knows that with practice the students gain confidence and become leaders the next day by helping newcomers to the activity. Sorry about no pictures of kids, I do not have permission to photograph them.
Sue is a teacher and school librarian living in Atlanta, GA, USA. She was in NZ as a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher from Feb-June 2016.