Spotlight on Vermont-woo-hoo!

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).

Photos, videos, and a peek at innovative programs will open a window into the many ways that school libraries and school librarians are integral and integrated into our educational communities. So often, we avoid the spotlight, and just keep bouncing along like energizer bunnies, but here is a another way to show how school libraries are providing resources and personalizing learning for our diverse learners, and our teaching colleagues. We would love to feature your school library, so let us know if you would like a spotlight. Don’t be shy! If you have a renovated learning space, a neat student centered program, or a collaboration project with other teachers or community members, just contact Judy Kaplan, and she will interview you and write up a spotlight. Press the “easy” button-at least easy for you!

Harwood Middle/High School Library

By Judy Kaplan

The next stop on the School Library Spotlight tour takes us to the Mad River Valley, along the spine of the Green Mountains.  Harwood Union Middle/High School welcomes about 650 students from Duxbury, Fayston, Moretown, Waitsfield, Warren, and Waterbury.  Located in Moretown on busy Route 100, enthusiasts rush by to get to well known ski resorts, recreational areas, and towns to the north and south.  The communities take pride in their schools, and Harwood Union provides opportunities for both students and staff to excel.  

Megan Reed, the school librarian, is in her third year as the Harwood librarian.  Her previous role as a science teacher provides a first hand knowledge of curriculum, the implementation of Act 77, and Flexible Pathways which enhances her ability to collaborate with colleagues.  Megan is an active educational partner in classes throughout the school made possible because the library assistant, Celia Dehais, keeps the physical space humming while she is out and about. Celia is working on her MLIS, and brings both knowledge and experience that are great assets to the library program at Harwood. With a stable budget and flexibility in programming decisions, Megan can adjust the library to fit staff and student needs.

Megan believes it is important to embed library resources and services in classrooms while promoting the library as a flexible learning space that can accommodate multiple uses according to various needs and events.  She enjoys the eagle eye perspective of academic and social learning that being in her position affords as it helps her identify opportunities to support student learning.

Megan finds that listening closely to students and colleagues helps her identify changes that might improve library resources and services. After learning that students were looking for group collaboration spaces, she shifted the collection to make this desire a reality.  As shown in the slide deck, the space is large, open, has areas for presentation and group work, as well as quiet study spaces. The fiction collection is located in a separate space with inviting comfy chairs. Windows wrap around three walls of the main space, allowing a view into the surrounding woodlands.

Recently, the entire middle school has committed to a 20 minute daily reading block for literacy. The library is the go to place for resources, so it is busier than ever.  Megan and her assistant are just finishing up genrefying the middle school fiction collection, a year long project. Those who have tackled this job can understand that there are many aspects to getting it right!   Now when students rush in to find something to read, they are able to self select according to genres, and Megan can spend time in readers’ advisory with those who are not quite sure what they want.

Another new feature for the library is a digital media production studio adjacent to the circulation desk.  Equipment and devices for video production are available for student and staff projects.

In addition to her role as librarian at Harwood, Megan has several irons in the fire. As a co-leader in the sophomore teacher advisory program, Megan collaborates with Ellen Berrings, the Employment Specialist, Advisory, and PLP Coordinator, to guide students as they move to proficiency based graduation requirements for 2020 graduates. Along with other faculty members, Megan leads a group of tenth graders on a daily basis to offer small group support for academic and social learning as part of this advisory program.

Megan is excited to be working with two ELA teachers who are teaching a pilot course for Harwood’s new Capstone Project in which students will engage in research related to an area of personal interest. Megan has expanded the library website to support this research, and it has links for resources beyond the school. Megan will be involved in direct instruction in the classroom, and then with advising and guiding access to resources independently with students. A subscription to Noodletools will help organize student learning.  The teachers are thrilled with this dynamic resource, and the students are looking forward to a new adventure that is being launched during the next few weeks. Megan is providing professional development for teachers who are interested in using Noodletools in other classrooms, now that the word is out.

Another related initiative in the school targets wellness, and Megan is enthusiastic about being on a steering committee established by Tara Cariano, the School Counselor. Tara is a 2018-19 Rowland Fellow who has received a grant to spend the year exploring ways to integrate social emotional learning and supports for students and staff in the school experience.  It would be great to follow up with the results generated from this important conversation.

Megan looks forward to monthly meetings with the other school librarians in the district.  All elementary schools, and the other middle school, Crossett Brook, have certified librarian/ technologists, and they gather to share ideas and support new learning.  From those meetings, Megan was encouraged to become a part of the World of Difference Program at Harwood Union.   

Parting words from Megan-it pays to have a sense of humor when working with teens.  Here’s recent joke from some ninth grade boys:

“Why does a golfer carry an extra pair of pants?”  “S/He might get a hole in one!”

Contact Megan Reed with any questions or a request to visit:

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:

Shelburne Community School

By Judy Kaplan

Another year, another spotlight on school libraries across Vermont.  The school year is off to a flying start, and I will continue to share observations and photos of various school library programs for 2018-19.  Please feel free to let me know if you have a renovated or new space that I could visit, or you have some exciting events and innovative ideas that you would like to share with our members.

Last week, I visited The Shelburne Community School Exploration Center (aka school library) to see the results of a multiyear renovation.  The library revision process was included in a major renovation of the decades old school to address changing needs and standards for contemporary education. The project was completed in time for the  2017-18 school year.

An article from the Shelburne News (Oct. 19, 2017) has details that explain the scope of the project.  The architects, Dore and Whittier, have a page on their website that describes the philosophy and the special features of the renovated library space.

Kari Ahern, who has guided the Shelburne Community School Library for many years, is delighted with the new space that enhances opportunities for learning. She worked closely with the architects and builders to design multiple, flexible spaces for readers and explorers of all ages.  There are approximately 800 PreK-8 students who have access to library resources and services, as well as faculty and staff, so providing varied areas for large, small, and individual learning is challenging. Take a look at the photos in the slideshow to see some of the flexible spaces from small conference rooms, storage and work spaces, to larger areas with mobile tables and bookshelves that can be rearranged easily.

Kari is assisted by a full time library paraprofessional, Fiona Kovacik, and supervises a marvelous new makerspace, that has the potential for both high tech and low tech projects.  Through modeling, and professional development, she has encouraged teachers to incorporate maker projects into the curriculum. Kari brings years of experience in constructivist and integrated learning as she develops information and literacy resources to help all learners in the school.  The print collection reflects the range of learners and interests, and the electronic resources curated on the library website are tailored for 24/7 access to in house and online resources.

Of course, there continue to be typical school library program challenges, even with a fabulous new space, and even for experienced professionals.  As we all know, change is a constant in education at all levels, national, state, and local. The Shelburne Community School Library has always operated with a flexible schedule, meeting the students’ and teachers’ needs weekly and monthly, without restricting access to library resources and services. Research has shown that this is a best practice for school library programs, although it continues to be a hot topic

Kari is currently navigating a new administratively imposed fixed schedule for K-5  that has changed the open access philosophy for resources and services, including the makerspace.  With the large number of K-5 classes each day, the result has been that time for middle school students individually, and for classes has been restricted by the K-5 schedule. With new administrators, Kari has to find ways to work within the confines of their goals, and to find ways to demonstrate the impact of the changes in the scheduling that detract from personalized and just in time learning.   Advocacy continues to be critical for all school librarians who have to demonstrate that library programs are essential for all learners in a school community.

During my visit, Kari did quick readers’ advisory with a swarm of middle school students who had limited time for book selection, before the arrival of a fifth grade class.  The fifth grade class worked in small groups using ipads and an app called to follow a scavenger hunt that Kari had created to help them learn to find materials in the library. Looked like it was challenging, but fun… Then a kindergarten class arrived for 40 minutes for story time in the “Story Portal.” As I was leaving another kindergarten was coming through the doors... just a taste of a busy day in Shelburne Community School Exploration Center.

Kari welcomes anyone who might like to come for a visit and see the Exploration Center in action. You can contact her :     

Lamoille Union Middle/High School

By Judy Kaplan

Spring comes late to the North Country- and this year has been no exception. A mid March visit to Lamoille Union Middle/High School located in Hyde Park, Vermont revealed stubborn snow and chilly temperatures, even though there were a few students who were wearing shorts! That was an indication of the warm spirits inside the hub of the school-the library. Meagan Towle, the school library media specialist, envisions a learning environment that is responsive to the varied interests of teens, and the expansive library provides areas to cater to those needs. Meagan is in a good position to make connections with the students as she graduated from LUHS in 2007, and after college, returned to the school as an assistant in the library. While gaining experience, she completed the graduate coursework for the school librarian endorsement. Then four years ago, she was hired as school library media specialist, a future ready school librarian. Meagan has been an agent for change on the staff, and welcomes new ideas to continue to improve student access to information and technology. An avid reader and lover of YA fiction, Meagan is determined to help teens find a just right book.

The library is situated centrally between the two physical buildings that house the middle school and the high school. With more than 750 students, and numerous staff, there is not much down time in the space. The central library space is wide open and large, with the collection spread strategically throughout the space. Adjacent to the main space are several smaller rooms for active learning. Conference rooms, a green screen room and recording studio, a research lab, and smaller work zones allow flexible use for multiple activities all at the same time. With such a busy place, the library is staffed from 7:15 am-5:15 pm, with three assistants and tech services support, so students have many helping hands.

The school library program is about building relationships with users, and giving them a voice, and choices for learning. Meagan seeks out colleagues for collaboration opportunities, and co-teaches research classes, and guides students as they explore passion projects. She has been collaborating with some foreign language teachers, and this past spring vacation, was a chaperone with other teachers and parents for a group of twenty students who traveled to Paris and Barcelona. Now that’s what I call collaboration!

The middle school schedule is flexible and responsive to curriculum content, once students have participated in orientation to resources classes. She encourages students to take ownership of programming by enlisting them to help with school wide library promotion for reading and literacy.

In the slides, you will get a snapshot of the kinds of activities that keep the library an exciting place for students and teachers. The first few slides are collages that Meagan created for my UVM course last fall. They illustrate the big picture overview of the school library program at LUMHS. Look closely to see some of the fun activities that happen during the school year, and you will notice students and teachers sharing a piece of the action.

The other slides show the various ways that the physical space is arranged. According to Meagan, the space is continually morphing, to adapt the learning environment. She struggles with having enough time (sound familiar?) for weeding to personalize the collection for students’ needs. Reference books are the current focus, since so many up to date resources are available through the online databases accessed through the library website.

What on the horizon for the school library? In the near future, whiteboard tables for collaboration are on the way, and next year-renovating the research lab into a makerspace. As always she is looking for new ideas to help students find a niche in the school library. Meagan welcomes visitors with a big smile, so stop by and say hello.

Contact Meagan Towle:

Library website

School websites: 

High School

Middle School

Spotlight on St. Albans Town Educational Center!

By Judy Kaplan, April 2018

Michael Flanagan claims to be the “luckiest teacher at St. Albans Town Educational Center,” (SATEC) because he has a “dream job” in a fabulous learning space-the school library.  

After 12 years as a grade 5-6  teacher, Michael transitioned into the role of school librarian two years ago, just as the facility was being renovated and upgraded from a traditional to an active learning space.  The school welcomes over 780 prek-8th graders and there is something for everyone in the school library.

Michael says, “The best part of the job is that I get to work with everyone.”  He is passionate about building relationships with all library users, from the youngest preschoolers to the those moving on to high school, as well as staff members and parents.  He is proud that the preschoolers tell him that the library is their favorite place in the school.

Books and reading are central to connecting all of the community through stories, and guiding kids to find the just right book is Michael’s cup of tea -or smoothie!

As you click through the slides, you will see various aspects of a contemporary library space that can adapt to a multitude of possible uses-not just during the school day, but in the evenings by community groups.  Michael has also curated 24/7 access to a virtual library website with lots of choices f

or users, so check it out, too.

When you visit the library, you will be amazed by the size and the variety of spaces for active learning.  The main communal space for large gatherings is technology rich and flexible with moveable furniture, and spots for demonstrations and presentations. Surrounding the central area are other sections for quiet reading and access to nonfiction collections, and another open room for picture books, early chapter books, and fiction.   A YA collection is growing each year and is supplemented with titles borrowed from the Bellows Free Academy (high school), and the St. Albans Free Library. Parts of the collection have been genrefied, and eye-catching displays appeal to browsers, and seekers of knowledge and the latest popular literature titles.

A small classroom space can be used for class meetings or small group work. The prek-4th grades are scheduled in the library at least once a week, with the 5-6 grades on a quarterly fine arts schedule.  Grades 7 & 8 have flexible schedules, and Michael sees 4-6 classes a day. It is a busy place-just the way Michael likes it. Fortunately, he has a full time assistant, Sarah Allerton, who for many years was the children’s librarian at the public library, and keeps the ship sailing along.

Staffing in the library is really quite exceptional, and it extends to incorporating technology services within the space.  Technology is integral to learning in the library space, and Tony Galle, the technology director has his desk in a central spot.  He and Michael collaborate to provide just in time learning, co-teach lessons, and help colleagues develop and teach curriculum units.  The 5-8 graders have 1:1 chromebooks. All students have access to technology through a “collaboratory,” another room in the library. It is a combination makerspace and an audio and green screen studio. A tech specialist, Tim Rouselle shares his expertise with all who need some help.    This is an amazing model for integrated learning, and visitors are welcome. Come for a visit, and bring your colleagues!

Thank you Michael for sharing your enthusiasm and your wonderful library in beautiful St. Albans, Vermont!

Spotlight on Neshobe School, Brandon, Vermont

By Judy Kaplan

Once again, let’s all take a virtual field trip to another dynamic, future ready school library in Vermont. This time, let’s visit the  Neshobe School Library In Brandon, Vermont.  Neshobe School welcomes 423 pre-K-6 students from Brandon and Goshen.  Situated on the outskirts of the Brandon Town Green, the campus has three buildings that reflect the various stages of community growth over the years.  Along with other Vermont schools, Neshobe’s mission is to provide the best education for local children-a familiar refrain from school to school.

“….We believe in nurturing the hopes and dreams of our students. We believe in ourselves and our colleagues, that working together we can support all students to feel success and make those hopes and dreams a reality.”

Neshobe School Library 2018

The hopes and dreams for Neshobe students are echoed in a large and flexible library learning space that combines multiple areas for class meetings, performance spaces, small group or makerspace work, and quiet reading nooks.  Learners have many choices from an extensive collection of resources, both print and digital.  The active learner centered environment encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning and behavior. Be sure to glance through the slides to get the big picture!  Smiles abound!

Hannah Fjeld, the school librarian since 2014, has energy and enthusiasm for  

the school library program, and was recruited to return to her childhood school by the current principal.  She explains her journey:

My path to becoming a school librarian was a roundabout one. I went to UVM undergrad, majoring in Geography with a minor in Middle East Studies. After UVM I moved to the Pioneer Valley, where I worked with a variety of nonprofits before getting a part-time job as a library assistant in the children's room at the Greenfield Public Library. I worked there for almost four years, eventually becoming an assistant reference librarian, and started my masters at Simmons College. During the summer of 2014 I received a call from Judi Pulsifer, the principal of Neshobe School, saying that she had heard through the grapevine that I was a librarian and that she needed one to come work at Neshobe. Within a month I had interviewed and accepted the position, and I moved back to Vermont two weeks before the beginning of the school year.

The move from public to school librarian was a steep learning curve! I find the pace of the work to be much faster. I most deeply value the opportunity to watch and help students cultivate their reading lives throughout their elementary education. Four years into this work, I only now feel like I have a handle on all aspects of my job, and even then it is constantly shifting with the needs of my school community. I'm a teacher, a collaborator, an event planner, a grant writer, a tech leader, and more. Right now, I can't imagine doing any other work. (Hannah Fjeld, email correspondence 12/15/17)

Personal Learning and Inquiry at Neshobe

As we all know, across Vermont, personal learning is a hot topic, and school librarians are are poised to offer strategies to enable a shift from teacher centered to student center learning. Inquiry based learning is a core concept in librarianship.  Finding the right resource for each learner requires librarians to know the learner, and to help the learner frame his/her inquiry.  What could be more personal?

Hannah uses many opportunities to collaborate closely with classroom and other teachers to mesh literacy and information skills to support learning for all students.

This year, Hannah is a leader in a pilot project with several fifth/sixth grade and integrated arts teachers who have carved out time during each week for about 70 fifth and sixth graders to pursue passion projects.  

The big idea to to provide time, space, and a framework for students to self reflect about their personal interests and their own curiosities, and to build self directed explorations and performance pieces that they will eventually share with others.  According to Hannah, it has been a learning experience for both students and teachers. With the emphasis on inquiry and questioning, one surprise that she shared was that some students were unsure how process their thinking.  She heard some say, “Just tell me what to do!”  As the projects evolved, teachers divided up the students by interest areas or themes such as arts, music, technical productions, outdoors/sports, cooking, etc.  As the themes were narrowed down, the teachers then guided smaller groups through an inquiry process, and provided feedback and encouragement with each individual passion project.

As the months have gone by, the pilot project teachers are learning from their students, and are making adjustments on the fly that will inform the next rendition of this educational endeavor. This is really about improving teaching and learning for all involved-an exciting adventure in the field of education. Yes, it is hard work, but also fun!

Hannah reports:

Passion projects are a mixed bag---some students are flourishing within the choice environment, others are struggling as we didn't give much opportunity to build a mental model for the process before jumping in. We have found it necessary to split the year up into sessions with clear end dates---we are just finishing up our first session and students will start on a new project after break. It seems helpful to have a clearer timeline to help students manage their time and their progress. I'd say that, if others are thinking of doing a similar project, a scaffolded model with a slower release to full choice and freedom would benefit students and help them take full advantage of the opportunity. Also, dedicating more that 45 minutes once a week would help, but don't we always wish for more time! (Hannah Fjeld, email correspondence 12/15/17)

Making Connections with Hannah Fjeld

Perhaps you have been intrigued to learn about what is happening at Neshobe School, and would like to ask Hannah a few questions, or would like to arrange a visit.  She would welcome the opportunity to share her ideas and learning space with others in Vermont.  Networking is a key feature of the Vermont School Library Association, so let’s continue to take advantage of our collective brain, through the  listserv and the VSLA website.  

Hannah Fjeld

Library Media Specialist

Neshobe School

17 Neshobe Cir., Brandon, VT 05733

Ph: 802.247.3721 x2103

October Spotlight:

This month the spotlight is on the Fair Haven Union High School I-Media Center, in Fair Haven, Vermont. The 9-12 school with about 450 students from area towns has a renovated learning space led by Deb Ehler-Hansen, LMS. Two years ago, the library was traditional, and now, thanks to Deb’s vision and support from her administration, it is an I-Media Center with multiple learning spaces, production spaces, quiet learning zones, comfortable seating, and resources for print and digital learning. What makes it an I-Media Center?

“The "i" in I-Media stands for innovation, information, inquiry, and interest-based learning opportunities! The i-Media Center is both the physical and VIRTUAL "HUB" of all school learning!”

That just about says it all in a nutshell! Great branding! Future ready!

The I-Media Center welcomes classroom teachers who collaborate with Deb for research projects, students who are looking for reading adventures, others who want to explore STEM learning, and more. Deb is especially excited to have about 20 students participating in a book club, and also collaborates with a history teacher to sponsor students involved in a 3D tech competition.

The I-Media website is a treasure trove of information for all users and visitors. It is truly a wonderful example of how a virtual library complements the physical space. The resources and links are useful anytime, anywhere. Spend some time scrolling through the photos and videos on the front page to get a sense of the variety of activities that make this an active learning space.

Deb is developing a makerspace area and has curated some tech tools for innovation and creativity. During the summer, she offered a two week course for high school students to explore Finch Robots, Scratch, MIT Hummingbird, Little Bits, and Makey Makey. Watch the video to see High School Prep 2017 in action. The secret she says, is to let the students take the lead in the learning. Innovation sometimes means failure, and lots of persistence!

Next on Deb’s agenda, is to provide professional development for her colleagues at FHUHS who are tasked with personalizing learning for their students. She is creating an online course to guide educators to transform learning with technology and inquiry. In November, she will be presenting her work at the AASL Conference in Phoenix. Look for more information about that and a link to her presentation in a later post.

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