Spotlight on Vermont!

No time to visit other school libraries in your busy schedule? Wish you could see what your colleagues are doing to embrace “future ready” school library programs? Want to build networking within your region?

Welcome to a new feature of the VSLA website that connects all professional school librarians, tech integrationists, and those who love school libraries in our small, but geographically challenging state. Let’s share our ideas by showcasing what is happening in your school or district. Each month or so, watch for “Spotlight on Vermont,” (not “Moonlight in Vermont”-that’s taken).

Mill River Union Middle/High School

By Judy Kaplan

Over the river and through the wood to find this month’s Vermont school library spotlight…

Let’s visit Mill River Union Middle/High School in North Clarendon, Vermont to meet Karen McCalla, the school librarian who is as passionate about books and reading as she is about STEAM-Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math in the library makerspace. She is also excited about the recent renovations in the library learning spaces that serve about 450 middle and high school students.  To keep all the plates spinning in this large and varied space, Karen is assisted full time by a former high school teacher, Lois Castaguay, who really enjoys working with teens.  

Be sure to look through the photos in the slide show to see the results.

The transformation of the library reflects changes in the schoolwide shift to proficiency based learning, and personalization embodied in VT Act 77, “Flexible Pathways.”  Learners are encouraged to take responsibility for charting their own futures with voice and choice.  Teachers provide a framework and guidance for the learning. Traditional classroom spaces need to be redesigned to accommodate opportunities for individual or group projects that challenge learners to solve authentic problems-and that includes the library.  

For years the Mill River library occupied a large space within the middle school wing, that was enclosed by a wall along a corridor with controlled access through a front door.    In the redesign, emphasis was focused on opening up the space so that learners could have multiple spots for active learning and collaboration, while providing quiet spaces for individual concentration.

The solution was novel-just move the wall to allow for open access to one half of the space, and repurpose the glass wall to separate the quiet learning area with the bulk of the print collection.  In the open space, there are multiple tables and comfortable seating to accommodate small groups for project work. Restaurant booth seating defines the library space apart from the open hallway to several classrooms. Rotating displays of new and popular books, as well as multimedia attract students by interest and format.  During my visit, there was a constant low hum of quiet conversation and students were busy with their laptops and projects. Everyone seemed to be on task and purposeful.

An entrance through the glass wall that was reinstalled to divide the space leads to the quiet area that has nonfiction, some reference, and the fiction print collection.  There are work tables, and comfortable chairs for reading and thinking. The non-fiction has been weeded, and continues to be weeded, as the digital library has expanded on the library website available 24/7.  The fiction collection is currently being genrefied.

Karen works in high school classrooms as she collaborates with content area teachers and students with research. Then, she is able to continue to support individual and group projects in the library learning space, and makerspace.  Middle school teachers also collaborate with Karen to work with classes in the library spaces, or in classrooms. Her schedule varies from day to day, week to week according to curriculum and literacy needs of teachers and students.

While one may think that a major space redesign might be prohibitively expensive, Karen has shown what ingenuity, perseverance, and old fashioned New England thrift can accomplish.  The makerspace areas of the library learning space have morphed over the past few years. Adjacent to the main learning space, there are multiple areas for exploring STEAM projects, and for creative production.  Karen has been able to provide many resources through donations, grants, and gifts to supplement a limited budget. For example, she acquired sewing machines from the dismantled living arts classrooms, and provides electronic and digital equipment and devices for science exploration and tinkering.  A green screen room is an advantage for digital filmmakers.

As an auction junkie, Karen has been able to snag attractive bookshelves from a bookstore that was closing in the area, and tables and chairs from restaurants going out of business.  Even on a shoestring budget, vision and determination can bring about success. Karen’s energy is evident in her welcoming smile and bountiful enthusiasm for helping learners reach their potential as scholars and creators of new ideas.

Karen is a resource for colleagues throughout the local area and across Vermont.  The MINT community makerspace in Rutland is another one of her pet projects, and she is often a presenter at Dynamic Landscapes and Vermont Fest.  If you run into her there, be sure to ask her, “What’s new?”

You can reach her through her email:

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