On Friday, May 20, 2016, I traveled to Walnut Springs Middle School in Westerville. Walnut Springs Middle School is one of four middle schools in the Westerville City School District (http://www.wcsoh.org). Westerville City School District serves an economically and socially diverse 52-square-mile area in northeastern Franklin and southern Delaware counties. With a school population of 14,800 students, WCSD is the 11th largest school district in Ohio. Walnut Springs Middle School is home to approximately 950 6th through 8th grade students.
After checking into the office, an 8th grade student escorts me to the WSMS’s Center for Inspiration (CFI), a welcoming and exciting space where learning is clearly the “heart of it all.” School library media specialist, Jean Trimble greets me as we enter. The transformation of WSMS’s Center for Inspiration first caught my eye in a Columbus Dispatch article from October 6, 2015, entitled “Westerville School’s New Library, Media Center Generating More Use,” that was featured on the OELMA’s Facebook last fall. A school library media specialist for five years, Jean brings so much enthusiasm into the profession – “being a school library media specialist is the most rewarding and fulfilling job out there! Everyday is a new day. I have the opportunity to be creative. I have the pleasure of working with amazing students. I am lucky to work with incredible professionals. And I’m so fortunate to be in a building with flexible, forward-thinking administrators who give me the freedom to try new things.”
That freedom to try new things is what brought about the transformation of WSMS’s library to the Center for Inspiration and Jean captured it all on a YouTube video entitled “The New Center for Inspiration.” As I tour the Center with Jean, I see students entering the Wolf TV studio (housed in the CFI), sitting in the booths chatting, and lounging in the comfy chairs in front of the fireplace testing their skills with Perplexus. The color scheme is arresting and as Jean explains it, is inspired by the prints found above the fireplace – music, art, and literature. The gold door, found in the back entrance to the MakerSpace is a nod to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
While most of the book displays are put away for the summer, I see curved bookshelves outside the MakerSpace with some intriguing titles such as Projects with Space, Maker Dad, Marvelous Ball Book, and The Art of Tinkering with some examples of MakerSpace projects interspersed on the shelves. Another set of shelves near the piano table with a selection of titles such as Guys Who Read: Terrifying Tales, Guys Write for Guys Who Read; Guys Who Read: True Stories. Located in front of the ceiling-to-floor window in the back of the CFI is a circular structure that I learn from Jean is a bookshelf in which she displays new books during the school year. Students are welcome to sit in the center and check out the newest book titles. Magazines are also on display – some of the most popular titles says Jean are: The Skateboard Mag and Game Informer. WSMS celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year and Jean has put together a display of memorabilia of timeline books, vinyl records, computer diskettes and other fun mementos.
Beyond the booths and the comfy chairs near the fireplace, students have an array of other seating options. Counter-height tables (with receptacles for plugging in devices) and stools, green modular seating, as well as the traditional classroom style seating make the CFI a versatile space for all kinds of activities. As I look out the back window, I see chairs and tables arranged as an outside instructional space.
Speaking of instructional space – Jean shows me the one area in the back of the CFI with its ceiling projector, interactive whiteboard, and tables and chairs but then there is this other space. Jean lifts what looks like glass garage doors to reveal another instructional space with tables on wheels. This is her preferred instructional space, she tells me. Since she started teaching five years ago to now, the lessons that she teaches have increased by 200 percent. Enriched 7th grade social studies and language arts teachers on National History Day projects and all content areas in 6th grade on various projects, keep Jean on the go – this year she taught fifty full days of lessons in all content areas. As Jean explains “I have found that most classroom teachers are open to the idea of co-teaching with me. And I’m truly impressed with all the teachers that I work with. I’m new to public education so every time I co-teach I learn something. I’m especially impressed with the rapport and patience the teachers have with students. My building has some pretty awesome teachers!”
In Jean’s preferred instructional space, thirty-two Chromebooks are located in a wheeled cart. What you don’t notice in the CFI are desktop computers. Technology is integral to Jean’s pedagogy. She further explains that “it’s so important for library media specialists to stay informed on the current trends. And it’s equally important for us to know if and how any of the current educational technologies can help the other professionals in our building. We have to be the leaders in this area.”
One of Jean’s favorite spaces is the MakerSpace that is situated next to the circulation desk. Filled with all kinds of resources that she has received through grants from the Westerville Education Foundation and the middle school’s administration, as well as the continued support from Westerville Partners for Education, it’s bound to be a transformative learning space for her students. I ask Jean the proverbial question I’ve heard raised at workshops – “How is the makerspace connected to the curriculum?” Jean shows me a black file box entitled Design Challenges. In the box are file folders with copious design ideas divided by content areas (math, art, etc.). Each content area includes design challenges such as rocket cars, paper roller coasters found in folder that contain step-by-step instructions and design sheets for students. She explains that the math teacher, for example, sends students who need additional challenge. It’s a way of integrating the concept the students have learned into a real-world application It reminds me of the quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” As Jean explains “From flying tumblewing gliders around the library and realizing the air from the vents affects the flying success, to students changing the funnel design of their paper roller coasters – having a makerspace has allowed me to witness a lot of student “ah ha” moments! The makerspace has really been an amazing addition to the library. It is a place where students can explore and create, and most important not be afraid to fail.”
While Jean helps a student at the circulation desk, I wander around trying to capture the excitement of the CFI on camera. At the entrance to the CFI, I see two desktop computers in front of a blue map of the northern and southern hemispheres. As Jean explains, students can use one of the computers to locate materials from the Westerville Public Library. Jean encourages students in her building to get a public library card. The WPL offers a library link service that enables students to reserve books that are then delivered to the schools. Students can return their books at school and are later picked up by the public library. In addition to borrowing books, “the staff at WPL is so helpful and generous. They are always willing to come into the schools to help with book talks, programming and more. This past year, WPL employee, Jesse Henning led multiple hands-on learning opportunities in my makerspace. Over one hundred students learned how to make plastic cup speakers, robot fingers, and tumblewing gliders.”
When I ask Jean what her most rewarding time as a library media specialist has been, Jean responds “When I witness a student succeeding – either in their schoolwork, or in clubs, or just in their social navigation of middle school, I am always there as a resource for them in the library. I help students daily with homework and projects and often talk to them about various opportunities available to them. Some students just need that little extra push to realize their potential.”
One of the greatest challenges Jean sees in her work as a library media specialist is “changing the existing paradigm. Unfortunately a lot of people making decisions that affect our careers still think the job of a library media specialist is checking in and out books. We are teachers, problem-solvers, innovators, collaborators, and leaders. Until that is fully realized it will be difficult for us to teach our academic content standards. I hope one day all stakeholders realize every student deserves a school library media specialist.”
As Jean and I walk toward the front of the building, she introduces me to her principal – Becca Yanni. We chat for a few minutes about the end-of-the-school-year activities before I leave Walnut Springs Middle School and the exciting Center for Inspiration that is featured in the Spring 2016 issue of Learning by Design.
See what is happening at Walnut Springs Middle School by checking out Jean’s website likeagoodbook.com.
Click on Thumbnail to see larger image