On November 2, I drove to Chardon, Ohio to visit school library media specialist Amy Myers at Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin High School (NDCL). The campus sits on over 200 acres of gently rolling hills covered with trees rich in fall colors in Geauga County. At NDCL’s main office, I was directed to the Sister of Notre Dame Learning Commons. Just as I arrive, Amy escorts me to the TV Broadcast Studio and Makerspace located in the Learning Commons where she supervises Live tech crew who produce the daily morning announcements from 9:20 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. The TV Broadcast Studio is housed in two glassed-in rooms – one with the studio or “green room” and the other with video production equipment – remote control cameras, teleprompters and video recording and playback.
Amy informs me that the Sisters of Notre Dame Learning Commons reopened in 2016 after a year-long renovation. A welcoming space, the Learning Commons is bright and cheerful with floor to ceiling windows at one end where students can sit on comfortable chairs and relax and/or study. Our first stop is The Cave. The Cave is a collaborative space located at the back of the Learning Commons. The Cave fosters 21st century skills such as communication, collaboration, and creativity. The learning space enables students to share, perform, present, and create in small or large group settings. Equipped with two 60” Smart TVs with multifunctional capability that includes presentation and video display, and data sharing, The Cave works equally well for professional development and teaching training.
The Reference Desk is situated next to The Cave and is where Amy helps students with their information and technology needs. Behind the Reference Desk is Amy’s office, with a window that overlooks the campus. LC1 (Active Learning Classroom) allows for lots of interaction with its 70” Mondopad touch-screen system for video conferencing, white boarding, data sharing and more especially combined with the Smart TV. LC2 (Seminar Room) is a meeting room that is open to classes, clubs, student and teacher groups. Equipped with a 70” Smart TV, the Seminar Room has the digital tools to enhance learning needs. Walls are accented with stone and bathed in light from the morning sun.
Located on the outer walls of the Learning Commons are custom booths designed to meet the collaborative needs of the students. To tap into the social aspect of teen life touchscreen computers with wireless keyboard and mouse are found in three of the booths. Cultivating teamwork and leadership, these custom booths enable the collecting, sharing, editing, and creating of information. Located across from the custom booths is a “Drop-In” Lab designed for students who need access to information quickly – check e-mail, print and complete assignments. Students can either use the stand-up or sit-down computers.
Near the “Drop-in” Lab are comfortable chairs and tables. Amy explains that NDLC is on a block schedule four blocks each day that alternate “Blue” and “Gold.” Each block is an hour and twenty minutes. A number of the students I see sitting at the tables are working with teachers. Amy adds that these are tutors and retired teachers who are available in the Learning Commons to work with students.
The Cove, located at the front of the Learning Commons is designed for groups of students, teachers or administrators to share, perform, present, create. To foster 21st century skills such as communication, collaboration, and creativity, The Cove has two 70” Smart TVs with multifunctional capability the includes presentation and video display and data sharing.
While walking around the 7,300 square-foot Learning Commons, you cannot help but feel the energy emanating from the students. A row of booth-style seating and tables compose “Cooperative Alley.” With its face-to-face design, students can collaborate on learning activities. Similarly “The Campfire,” located under a skylight, provides a central meeting point as you enter the Learning Commons..
Of particular interest are the “pods.” There are two pods and each is filled with comfortable seating to encourage group meetings or individual reflection. On the outside of the “pods” are bookshelves that accommodate NDCL’s fiction collection. I ask Amy about the bookshelves as I noticed that there are a few at the front of the Learning Commons that house the reference collection as well as a few at the Reference Desk. Amy explains that prior to the renovation, she weeded the collection extensively and that students and teachers use the online databases extensively. To learn more about NDCL’s Read-ing Between the Lions check out this 2013 article in the News Herald.
As Amy and I tour the Learning Commons, she introduces me to Sister Jacquelyn Gusdane, SND, NDS President of Notre Dame Schools who takes me to her office for a few minutes. She gives me an NDCL folder with extensive information about NDCL as well as shares information about the evolution of the Learning Commons.
As Amy and I finish up the tour, we sit in The Campfire to talk about her role as a Learning Commons Media Specialist at NDCL. This is Amy’s sixth year at NDCL. Prior to coming to NDCL she was a media specialist at West Geauga High School for five years. She taught social studies for five years at Mentor High School. Hands down her most rewarding time as a library media specialist is the interaction with students – “I love working with them to help them with their research, find a good book to read, casual conversation,” When asked, “What surprises you the most about your career?” Amy responds “the diversity of the job. I wear so many hats in my building. Prior to becoming a LMS, I never knew the different areas and people I would be working with. It really is a dynamic profession and it changes daily. I love the flexibility I have and that each day is different from the last.”
With the technology-infused Learning Commons, I ask Amy about how technology has transformed her teaching. She explains that “technology has made me a better teacher and way more interesting. A lesson can be transformed with the use of the right technology at the right time. It also helps me relate to the kids in a way that I wouldn’t be able to…especially since the age gap between the students and me keeps widening.”
The NDCL is built to be a collaborative space for students and teachers so I ask Amy about her collaboration with teachers. Amy responds that she collaborates with four (theology, social studies, English, and science) 9th grade level departments (11 different teachers) eight times a year through NDCL’s embedded instruction program called FIRSTT. She meets with each department to plan a lesson that infuses information literacy and research skills into the context of what they are doing in their curriculum. This enables Amy to scaffold and consistently teach all 9th graders these important skills. Amy explains that what she has learned from these collaborations is that “I underestimated the effort to collaborate effectively with classroom teachers and that communication (often and timely) is key to a successful partnership.”
My favorite question to ask library media specialists is to describe an “ah ha” moment for a student that you feel you contributed to. Amy responds that recently she helped students learn to refine their year-long research project topic. “I showed them the databases and how to use filters and the topic triangle and all sorts of great tools and methods to help them target a researchable topic. I even showed them CTRL F function to find a term in a lengthy text and it blew their minds. I never got so many heartfelt thanks for helping them – hearing them say ‘thank you, that was really helpful’
For more information on the Learning Commons, check out “Sisters of Notre Dame Learning Commons Opens New Possibilities for Learning” as well as this article in Cleveland Magazine “Lessons Learned: Amy Myers, Notre Dame Cathedral Latin.” Learn more about NDCL’s Read-ing Between the Lions – a book sharing program that got off to a “roaring” start in 2013. The News Herald also featured an article on Read-ing Between the Lions in 2014.
Follow Amy and NDCL on Twitter @NDCLLibrary
Written By: Susan Yutzey