What in the World Have you Been Doing?

By: Jeni Nix, SC School Librarian, and Rene Harris, SC Elementary School Principal

The Tale

There is a tale of a couple given a cruise as a wedding gift.  They were excited and grateful for the generous offering.  They embarked on the journey with great expectations. But once on the ship, their excitement and joy reversed mid-trip.  For most of the trip, they remained in their cabin. 

Photo by Arun Sharma on Unsplash

Near the cruise’s end, they met an elderly couple, and struck up a conversation comparing their impressions of their nautical excursions. The honeymoon couple shared how boring the trip had been, even expressing disappointment. But the elderly couple told how invigorated and engaged their experience had been, looking forward to the opportunity to travel this way again. Intrigued and perplexed by the evaluation of the honeymoon couple, they asked a series of questions. Did you go to the Deserted Island Luau party? Had you enjoyed the night of games in the Vegas lounge? Wasn’t the tropical water slide with exotic drinks at the pool bar amazing? The honeymooners looked at each other with puzzled faces. The wife spoke first and explained that they hadn’t experienced any of these events.  The husband chimed in that they were unaware that these activities were options, and questioned the cost of the happenings.  

The elderly couple now looked at each other with puzzled faces and smiled.  The wife spoke first, “There was no extra cost, these things were included in the cruise package.”  

“What in the world have you been doing!” the elderly man blurted out in confusion. 

The young couple’s embarrassment was evident. “Well, we’ve mostly been eating, sleeping, and walking along the edge of the ship.” That’s when it dawned on the seasoned pair that the honeymooners had never ventured beyond the edge, never explored the inside of the boat, or pursued all of the amenities their trip had offered. 

The Practice

As a young child, I loved to write but hated to read. I spent my entire youthful career on the edge of books, only walking among the book jackets and back covers, creating book reports and projects from a few marketing ads and summaries.  Cliff was my BFF.  It wasn’t until I was required to take the obligatory “Children’s Literature” course in grad school that I got to experience the joy and delight that an excellent book offers. 

The Secret Garden

As the instructional leader, I want to ensure that no child is left behind on the shore or in their cabin. I am honored to work with talented teachers who embrace our mission to promote reading as a pathway to success. Our explicit, overt attempts to celebrate reading as a choice versus chore have been productive and positive.  While I operate at the helm, standing in the bridge of the ship, our media center is the deck of our vessel with exponential and far-reaching impact. 

Our library is the center of our boat, helping us to enjoy a multitude of amenities propelled by its creativity and spirit.  Our book vending machine, reading lounge, Palmetto Shore amphitheater, and secret garden are all extensions of the media center and its strategies for promoting reading for enjoyment.  Icons of “what teachers are reading now” and endorsements of great reads, monthly celebrations of Terrific Readers are all portholes and pathways to the most happening place aboard our ship.  I may be the captain, but I know who is driving this rusty bucket… the Media Specialist.

Book Vending Machine

We strive to work together to create a print-rich environment where literacy is organically infused into our learning community. We strive to move away from extrinsic motivational tricks or reading tallies for counting’s sake. We model the importance of reading by being explicit about the value and joy of reading. As we cruise through our reading quest, we strive to ensure that every child enjoys the amenities along the way, so that reading is more than a rudimentary process, and becomes a lifelong pleasure. 

As my principal so eloquently painted the picture of a childhood spent on the periphery of the journey to immersing herself in a good book it reminds me of the fact that the library fills many different roles in our students’ lives. No matter what the reason for visiting, the library is a safe haven for all children. 

Reading Buddies

Before the pandemic, our students would come in daily seeking a variety of things. Some would be there because they were told to come and it was my challenge to lead them to the book that would finally make a trip to the library a treat instead of a mandate. For others, it was a place they sought out for their next adventure or to find a character or scenario that made them feel a little less alone. A place where they could see themselves between the pages and know there was someone in the world that saw what they saw or felt what they felt. That is why it’s more important now than ever before to strive for inclusive collections that equally represent all of the diversity in the students and families that we serve. 

In addition, librarians need to continue reaching out to students through social media outlets, and other platforms, to share new books and help them find the truth in the barrage of information coming at them every day. Our roles may have temporarily changed physical location but the importance and impact of the services we provide as librarians is more important than ever before. 

About the Authors

Mrs. Rene Wyatt Harris, Principal- Beech Hill Elementary School Rene has thirty-two years of teaching experience and is the principal of Beech Hill Elementary School.

Mrs. Jeni Nix, Media Specialist- Beech Hill Elementary Jeni has 25 years in education, as a teacher and a librarian in Dorchester District Two Schools. This Nationally-Board certified teacher is serving as the 2020-2021 SCASL School Librarian of the Year.

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