If you are seeking an exemplary school library, look no further than the one at Eaglecrest High School in Centennial, Colorado.
The library at the high school, which is a part of the Cherry Creek School District in the southeast Denver area, earned the 2014 National School Library Program of the Year (NSLPY) Award, which is awarded by the American Association of School Librarians' (AASL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA) and sponsored by the Follett Corporation.
The school librarians at Eaglecrest seamlessly support, and in many cases take the lead on, integrating education and technological initiatives that best serve the students.
“The Eaglecrest High School library program is exemplary” said Sabrina Carnesi, NSLPY chair. "The committee was blown away by how the entire building is in agreement on the research process. Collaboration consistently occurs. Teachers work with the librarians on locating resources and the school librarians pull a variety of books at different reading levels and interests to meet a variety of learners. Both school librarians and teachers instruct students on the use of tech tools. This approach has resulted in double the amount of checked out books and students who are engaged and motivated to learn.”
Gail Dickinson, AASL president, said, “The Eaglecrest program shows what is truly possible when the entire educational community comes together to support their school library. In collaboration with their administrators, faculty, students, and community.”
“The culture of the library is clear,” said school librarian Kristin McKeown. “It is an academic environment with specific behavior expectations that align with what students will find at college and university libraries. Whether in spite of or because of this, hundreds of students per day come to the library to read, find materials, do homework, or use technology.”
The school librarians at Eaglecrest guide their decisions by asking the question “What is best for our students?” In the mind of Superintendent Harry Bull, the answer is clear: “High performing students require a high performing library For many years, the school library program has been successful because it has been consistently ahead of the times, and it has been intentionally staffed by personnel who are knowledgeable of their content and the instructional needs of their school.”
Principal Gwen Hansen-Vigil agrees, “Our teacher-librarians’ impact on student learning is widespread. Kristin McKeown and Hollie Hawkins are teacher-leaders as well as teacher-librarians. Both have the respect of colleagues needed to facilitate the learning of others.”
The library is the hub of Eaglecrest, with teacher librarians seamlessly supporting and sometimes taking the lead on educational initiatives to serve the students.
McKeown has fostered key relationships between the library and the rest of the school. She is part of the coordinator’s group, or school leadership committee, which affords her an excellent opportunity to collaborate with the leaders of the other departments in the building.
“We really tend to focus primarily on instruction, research and reading and leadership/professional development, staff development kinds of stuff,” McKeown said.
The school provides the library with excellent support.
She said, “We have two full-time teacher librarians, one full-time clerk and we just got the staffing for an additional half-time clerk.”
The staff helps the students who visit the library while working on larger research projects.
“A lot of what my fellow teacher librarians and I do is work with classes,” McKeown said. “The other thing we’re really passionate about is igniting and encouraging a love of reading,” explaining that the library works closely with English classes and supports literacy with sustained periods of silent reading.
Teachers will bring their classes to the library for book talks, to focus on a particular genre or examine the gamut of what is currently popular.
The library focuses on bringing the library to the classroom as well. This year saw the infusion of several hundred Chrome books that were put on carts and disseminated throughout the building.
An important focus for the library is instilling in students the habit of accessing reliable sources of information.
“Any research that they are doing should in some form or fashion include what we’re calling academic sources, which essentially is the term that we’re using for the databases,” McKeown said, with the library requiring students to cite their sources and not slapping a URL onto the bottom of a slide during a PowerPoint presentation.
The library tries to make itself available to support the teachers outside the library as well, checking Kindles out to students and making available iPod Nanos loaded with audiobooks.It also encourages teachers to promote online sources like animoto for use by their students.
The library website serves as a gateway to a variety of library resources, including links to databases, ebooks and online tutorials.
Databases connect students to ABC-CLIO, Gale and EBSCOhost.
The “Research Resources” page is customized for each research assignment, including database links, instructional videos and links to downloads.
A window on the main page of the library website shows a live Twitter feed that includes links to the latest parent newsletter article and provides a window into what books the library is featuring.
Twelve Kindles are available for checkout, with some 100-plus ebooks loaded on each device, including all required readings for English Language Arts Classes, all Summer Reading Program books and many high-demand titles. There are also more than 100 audiobook titles available on CD, with an option for downloading onto an iPod Nano.
“We work really well in terms of supporting teachers and helping them to figure out what it is that they are essentially looking for and decide what are the tools and what are the processes that they may want to have students follow,” she said.
Librarians have input on several research assignments, including the English Language Arts 9 issues research paper, the freshman Biology Disease Project and the U.S. History research paper.
For the English Language Arts paper, the librarians created short video tutorials.
The ultimate goal for the library is preparing students for college success.
The library program aligns itself with the district by focusing on national initiatives like the Common Core Standards and integrating complex texts into every classroom.
Librarians support critical thinking by integrating the use of Thinking Maps as a tool for student research, allowing students to use a Double-Bubble map to organize information on two sides of an issue or use a Flow Map to reflect on their thinking and research process for diagnosing a disease scenario.
The book checkout rate has been increasing steadily over the past several years, with the current average at seven books per student per year. The correlation between the school’s average checkout rate and ACT reading scores is .94, with 1.0 being the highest.
Hansen-Vigil said, “The English department made information literacy a priority, but it was the library department that made it happen.”
“Our checkout rate is approximately 7 books per student – more than double that of any other high school in the district. As Kristin and Hollie reflected on their goals from last year, they worked with our data specialist to see if the checkout rate correlated with test scores. The results were astonishing. Our checkout rate has a high correlation with an increase in our ACT reading scores.”
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