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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A weekend interview with Belinda Pope, media specialist at Sand Pine Elementary



With the increasing use of technology in education, the importance of a school's media center continues to grow. The Florida Association for Media in Education has recognized the media center at Sand Pine Elementary in Wesley Chapel as one of 26 to meet its highest standards. Media specialist Belinda Pope spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the award and the changing role of what used to be called libraries in the school system.

What is a Florida Power Library, and why did you want to have one?

Last year was the inaugural year for that process, and it all came about because our district self-evaluation process that we have. Our school did real well on that, so the district personnel kind of challenged us to go for it. Because they knew it was coming up.

So it means you have the most excellent library ever?

Well, it is to see how well we are working with our teachers. The whole motivation behind it is to promote collaboration in our state instead of the old fashioned what you would think of a school librarian, who just sat and checked out books. We are full-time instructional employees K-12, teachers, and we really need to be collaborating with our classroom teachers to increase student achievement. It's been shown that excellently staffed and well stocked and well managed media centers, those students score higher on tests, they perform better on information literacy skills and are more adept at technology.

You asked me last night why it wasn't called a librarian any more. The old term librarian still exists for public libraries, but it's way more than books. I guess that's why. We do way more with technology now. In our school we have mobile labs that we can check out, of laptops, for every student. That's been a big boon to me, because I can check out the mobile lab, put every child on a laptop computer and give them a research lesson that is all hands-on. So they're not just watching me do it.

How did you get to this point? It doesn't sound like something you can achieve over a summer.

No. This was a process. This is my 10th year. It's still always a work in progress. Teaming up with the teachers, and actually having that as a written goal helped me.

You said you would now be a model site for the rest of the state.

Correct. They selected 26 schools in the state of Florida. ... I think it's just a mentoring process. So if any other schools wanted to call me and ask, How did you start working with teachers more? What steps did you take toward collaborating. I can give them tips and ideas on how we got started.

Let's hear some.

Increase technology knowledge and use in your own media center. The mobile labs have been wonderful. I only have eight computers in my media center. So I can work with small groups with them. But this is excellent for me to be able to work with the teacher, directing the students on their curriculum, whatever they are working on. The old school way was to have the students come in, teachers might drop them off for what we call library time, and you would just teach them something. But it was totally unrelated to what they were learning in the classroom. Whereas now, we're sitting down ... and planning the lesson together. I might do a whole group lesson up front ... and then the students are hands-on, and the teacher and I are working with them together. ...

Another way ... is that I started working with them on their 90-minute reading block. ... That seemed to me it was going to cause a great limitation working with them. So I decided I was going to work with them during that block with them. I could be one of their centers. ... A lot of it involves research and reference material work. So I can be one of those centers. ...

It seems like rather than be a passive place to come to, you've gotten really involved.

Technology has helped greatly with that. Supportive administration has helped. And my team. ... We sit down and write annual goals. One of our goals was to have every single teacher collaborate with us on information literacy skill lessons as well as technology projects. ... So my lessons often dovetailed last year, this was what so cool about it ... my research lessons with kids would turn into something really wonderful on the computer, because a lot of it would just translate into (the teachers') lessons.

What if anything can parents do to help you to keep your efforts moving forward?

Ooh. I love that question. Because I could never be instructing like I am ... if I didn't have my awesome media tech assistant. ... She's fabulous. ... And we have every day almost covered with volunteers. ... We have fabulous volunteers that come in and they commit to a day or half a day with us. They do almost all our book check out. So I don't have to sit at the circ(ulation) desk and check out books. I can really work with the students and the teachers. I still assist with book selection. But if we didn't have all that support, I would be sitting at the desk all day checking out books.

It sounds like that has been real successful.

It has. And the actual award actually covered six different areas. We had to document that in a 5-minute DVD ... and we also had to create a huge portfolio. We had site visits. ... The documentation is key, and you have to start early. That's what I will be telling my peers.

Is it worth it in the end?

Yes. We're going to be recognized. And I've always enjoyed, I've mentored new media specialists in our county the past. I enjoy that. I like to see people start off and not get frustrated and stick with it. ... I like to tell them you can't listen to what somebody who's been working in the field for 10 years what they're doing and try to do every single thing. But each year maybe you pick one or two new ideas that you pick up and you run with them. You expand your program. Because a lot of what we do is reading motivation. And that increases student achievement. We get our students excited about reading ... through programs we have to offer. ... We do lunch bunches in the butterfly garden, ice cream bingo parties.

I'm coming back to school.

... They have lunch with us and play trivia games with the (Sunshine State reader) book questions. They love that. They bring their own lunch, so it's not that expensive for me. ... They just enjoy being with the other students that have read those books and answering questions. ...

That's a huge part of it. Also, one of the big areas is environment and how you promote reading in your actual physical facility. Advocacy is another area. ... So there's lot of different components to it. Another huge one is resource management. ... Unlike a public library, where they can buy whatever is popular, we need to buy what our teachers need for them to use in the classroom. So I do buy a lot of the fun stuff that kids are going to read ... but I'm also trying to find out what do I need to buy that is going to support our curriculum.

Do you get money for that?

Our book budget is pretty good. But we're always trying to keep up with technology. Keeping it modern is the trick. As soon as you get everybody stocked with laptops and desktops for the classroom, you're on to trying to replace them with the latest and greatest.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:33am]


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