One State's Quest for Excellence: Starting with the Sometimes Overlooked Library Media Center

By Pascopella, Angela | District Administration, January 2003 | Go to article overview

One State's Quest for Excellence: Starting with the Sometimes Overlooked Library Media Center


Pascopella, Angela, District Administration


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. (http://panther.chs.chico.k12.ca.us/~pmilbury/colo.html)

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, www.ala.org--have 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. …

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