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One state's quest for excellence

Starting with the sometimes overlooked library media center

A 21st century student might have a hard time appreciating pre-Civil War history. So through the story of Aindreas the Messenger, written by Gerald McDaniel, one media specialist hopes to bring

the story alive for students in an AP American history course at South Oldham High School in Crestwood, Ky.

The story is about an Irish immigrant boy in Kentucky during the 1855 Bloody Monday period. Prejudices against the Irish and other minorities ran rampant and a bloody riot breaks out.

Nancy Palmquist, the South Oldham library media specialist, wants students to take a field trip to check out some sites mentioned in the story, including the Ohio River that slaves crossed to escape. "It's a chance to approach history in a new way, a guided tour by an author ... to get both information and inspiration," Palmquist says. "Then you go stand on the river bank and see how close it is-but so far to cross. There's a kind of goose-bump experience of, 'Oh my God. People really went across that river. And a lot of people likely died.' "

It might sound unlike a library media center lesson. But that's exactly what it is. And in her quest to create more exciting learning environments, Palmquist is applying for a grant to make that happen, coordinating with the writing coordinator and English teacher.

"That to me is the key-how we collaborate," says Palmquist, who is one of two full-time media specialists and two full-time clerks in the 1,400-student school. "It's going to allow opportunities for students above and beyond what we can offer."

This is one example of what a library media center should offer, according to Kentucky educators.

The Kentucky Department of Education knows that a strong library media program is key to increasing student achievement. Research studies indicate quality library media programs yield better student achievement. "The Impact of School Library Media Centers on Academic Achievement," a recent study of elementary and secondary schools in Colorado, showed such a link. (

Students that have better funded library media centers tend to have higher average reading scores and students whose library media specialist plays an instructional role tend to achieve higher average test scores, research says.

"Beyond Proficiency: Achieving a Distinguished Library Media Program" is a 47-page document implemented last year in Kentucky. It outlines the ultimate goals to achieve a top-notch library media center.

A state house bill passed in 2000 requires every public school in the state to have a certified professional media specialist, which is not the case in every state. In Philadelphia, for example, several schools have libraries that no longer have professionally trained librarians due to financial constraints, according to news reports.

"The big push at the Department of Education ... is that by the year 2014 having all students proficient in all disciplines," says Diane Culbertson, former technology consultant for the Kentucky education department and now library media specialist at Tates Creek High School in Lexington. "The library supports the curriculum."

National Surveys Reveal Skills Key to Future

Schools collect and analyze information on what impact school libraries have on academic achievement with help from The Information Power School Library Action Research Project administered under the American Association of School Librarians. Two surveys-Power Reader and Power Learner, accessible via AASL's Web site, students reflect on their own work. Power Learner has students in part assess their research skills at the onset of a project, compared to skills they have at the end. Power Reader has students in part assess their own reading experiences.

Some results show that high school students with cars read less than those without cars, according to June Kahler Berry, chairwoman of the AASL's Research and Statistics Committee, which sponsored the project. And some students find their research skills are better than they are when they start projects. Berry says the information gives media specialists the power to inform teachers what they need to do, such as allowing more reading time in class.

"More and more administrators are becoming aware that a quality library media program will lead to higher student achievement," Berry says. "The students are definitely going to need the research skills and the reading skills they learn in the media center to be prepared for the type of jobs they get in the future."

The Guidelines

Culbertson, who was a consultant for school libraries statewide, worked with a committee of library media specialists and school administrators, along with state and university officials to compile the "Beyond Proficiency" document. Seven essential elements are listed:

Flexible scheduling: Flexibility gives students the chance to see connections to what they learn in the classroom. If students in class are studying mammals, for example, they could do research with books, magazines and the Internet at the media center the same day.

Resources: Adequate resources, such as electronic, print and non-print materials, are critical. The district should spend $21 per student, or 20 percent of their instructional money on the media center, to offer adequate resources.

For example, Library Media Specialist Angie Hawkins at South Heights Elementary School in Henderson says students research questions posted on InfoQuest online. Some questions require using encyclopedias, dictionaries, books or atlases. "The kids think it's a game," she says.

Technology: Technology opens doors for fast, efficient information and provides students with lifelong skills. Classroom teachers and library media specialists can plan together to buy and use electronic hardware and software.

At South Oldham High School, Palmquist says the media center has a 30-computer lab with high-speed Internet service in the middle of the room. "We thought it was really important to make that a big part of our library," Palmquist says. "If I'm going to be a research guide and the lab is off somewhere where I'm not, I can't do it. But here, it's under my nose and I can see the problems [students are] having."

Environment: Palmquist says South Oldham High's media center offers "big cushy chairs," paperback books that are easier to handle than hardcover books, new carpeting and swivel chairs in the lab-an overall pleasant environment for students.

"The center meets every goal," Palmquist says. "One thing we've always tried to stress is that we're their [students'] library. If we're going to reach them they will have to want to come in here."

Information Literacy: An effective program includes resources for teachers to integrate information skills into the curriculum. It's necessary for student achievement because using such skills within content areas help students achieve academic expectations in certain assessment areas.

Staffing: Having adequate professional and clerical staff is key to help implement multi-aged grouping, student-centered learning, collaborative planning, literature-based instruction, and the integration of information literacy into the curriculum. Palmquist says adequate staffing not only allows her to write grants for a field trip but teach students study and research skills.

Governance/Management: An effective media program is governed by a school-based decision making council and/or Board of Education policies-administered by a certified library media specialist.

A Private Donor Creates Learning for Life

Learning light bulbs just got brighter for roughly 2,000 students at Henderson County High School, according to John Vaughan, superintendent of schools. "This is the most exciting instructional environment I have ever seen-and it works," Vaughan says. "It will help our kids. It's the way schools need to head and need to operate."

Big words. It comes from big money. Layman Preston, president of the Ohio Valley National Bank in Henderson and who has a foundation for community benefit, offered $300,000 as part of a federal Qualified Zone program that totaled $3 million for renovations.

The donation transformed the old school cafeteria into a state-of-the-art media center with all the "technology there is available anywhere," Vaughan says. "We have video capability to every classroom from the media center."

The old media center had several search stations with about 10 PCs and software, including Winnebago software for an inventory of books, videos, CDs and other items.

This year, the media center includes all Dell PCs and laptops and a 30-computer station with a ceiling-mounted video data projector. Students can access the Internet, Microsoft Office and Plato, a curriculum software package.

Teachers can sign up to use the lab and show a video or DVD and use cable stations with a video data projector for lessons, such as a writing prompt.

A SMART Board interactive whiteboard allows students to work in small groups on projects, which puts a computer image on a whiteboard in front of them. Students can merely touch the board, or screen, to move items around.

It also has a wireless station with 30 laptops that can be carted in and out of a classroom.

A wall-mounted TV shows announcements of school events and schedules, which are created by students using PowerPoint presentations.

Debra Smith, the district's technology director, says she sees a change in students since the new center opened. They seek more help now and use Plato for Internet usage. The difference in student presentations from last year to this year is "like night and day," she says. "It's just professional work."

"It's awesome," Smith says. "Personally, I feel like any time a student has access to technology we have empowered that student. We're giving students an opportunity to make a decision about what information they're going to gather and how they're going to present it. We provide the tools and give the training in those tools. We're trying to empower our students to make them independent learners."

"There is no question it will improve their assessment scores," Vaughan adds. "It will improve excitement for learning. It already has. We see that. And you know, we're living in a society where we're competing with media and computers at home. You better have it in schools."

Make Reading Fun

Jennifer Lake, library media specialist at Jackson County High School, has watched students filter in and out of the media center for 13 years. Lake says new programs, in light of the recent statewide push for upstanding media centers, are certainly exciting students through collaborative programs.

The school's Family Resource and Youth Service Center is working with the library media center in getting more students to read. For example, the youth service center director seeks out local businesses for gift certificates. Last summer's reading incentive included such prizes as a VCR, computer software and music CDs. An incoming freshman read about 10 books according to his comprehension, first tested on Accelerated Reader software, and won a DVD player. "I'm just trying to get them in here, especially during the summer," Lake says.

The center also qualified last year for a federal 21st Century Learning Center Grant, which extends the library's hours from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. Another grant earned the center a digital video editing machine, which students use to create commercials or animation projects, even those related to math, Lake says. The machine works like a computer with a keyboard and mouse but connects to a TV set.

At South Heights School, Hawkins says the media center brings families and communities together. She organized a "Pizza and Pages" party last year to encourage family literacy. Parents and children sit in stations in the media center and do reading activities together. A similar program is planned this year with hot dogs and Harry Potter books.

Test scores finally rise

A prime example of how a strong media center works is through a popular program called Project CHILD, or Computers Helping Instruction and Learning Development. It focuses on collaboration among reading, writing and math teachers in elementary grades. At South Heights School, teachers visit the media center every Thursday and give Hawkins an overview of what students are studying. In turn, Hawkins can pull books, find Web sites, and search other materials that improve lessons. Hawkins has time because there is another full-time library assistant and a full-time technology assistant.

Test scores rose. Three years ago, test scores were low enough to require a distinguished educator from the state Department of Education to meet with school officials and develop an improvement plan, Hawkins says.

"I feel [the media center] did have a role" in increasing scores, Hawkins says. "The students are coming to the media center when they have a need, not just at Tuesdays at 10. They do things that relate to what they're studying in the classroom."

Angela Pascopella,, is features editor.