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CCSD celebrates National Library Month

RELEASE DATE: April 12, 2024

April is National School Library Month. Charleston County School District (CCSD) champions literacy, as evidenced by Vision 2027, which states that all students will read at grade level by fifth grade. 

Every April, CCSD teacher-librarians are encouraged to host activities to help their local community celebrate the essential role that strong school libraries play in transforming learning. The month-long celebration also supports all of the district’s three “pillars” (Pillar 1- rigorous grade-level instruction, Pillar 2 - high-quality teachers and leaders, and Pillar 3 - wrap-around services) that uphold the district’s mission of educating and supporting every child in achieving college, career, and citizenship readiness.

CCSD is celebrating National School Library Month in 2024 with the theme “Let’s Go to the Library!” CCSD school libraries are full of stories in various formats, from picture books to large print, audiobooks to ebooks, and more.   

“Our CCSD school libraries are the heart of our schools,” said Christy James, CCSD’s Library Media Services Coordinator and District Textbook Coordinator. “Our librarians provide high-quality, relevant instruction and resources that serve all students and teachers. “We celebrate school libraries this month during National School Library Month, but the positive impact of our libraries on reading, achievement, and a sense of belonging in our schools is felt all year long.”

Elementary School – Reading is fundamental

Teacher LibrarianMany of CCSD’s teachers knew they wanted to be educators from a very young age, including Springfield Elementary School’s Regina Stephens. Like most little girls, she grew up playing school, and more often than not, she was the teacher. Her passion was fueled by the educators who encouraged her to pursue the student cadet opportunity at her high school.

During that time, Stephens had the opportunity to be a student teacher at Murray-LaSaine Montessori School. It was in that experience that she knew teaching was her calling.

After graduating from Winthrop University, Stephens worked in the Jasper County School District. In 1999 she relocated back home and joined the CCSD Family as an early childhood teacher. After two years, Stephens learned that the former C.C. Blaney Elementary School needed a certified librarian. Stephens asked the principal if she could be appointed to the role, if she completed all of the requirements. A new passion was sparked, and Stephens has been instilling the fundamentals of literacy through the library ever since.

Today, Stephens is the teacher-librarian at Springfield. She considers her library the school hub and enjoys interacting with each child throughout the year.

“I get to interact with everyone in the building,” said Stephens, “From promoting summer reading to organizing the Battle of the Book teams to hosting two book fairs each year, and welcoming classrooms of students each day, I do all I can to instill a love of learning in all of my kids.”

In 2001, when Stephens took on the role of a teacher-librarian, she was overwhelmed and asked herself what she had done. Stephens said without any doubt that after those initial days, she knew she was where she was supposed to be.

Stephens is incredibly proud of the four Book Battle teams she has assembled. These dedicated students have chosen to skip recess and come to the library to practice for the actual competition.

“They’re excited to compete and love to read,” said Stephens. “What more could I ask for in my students?”

These students come in daily and nestle into a quiet corner of the library while Stephens conducts a class at the front of the room, where all eyes are on her. Stephens uses a loud, animated voice to read to her students, keeping them engaged and attuned as they journey through each book. Each book is centered around a lesson in reading fundamentals.

Stephens is gifted in paying extra care and attention to those students who may be struggling. She has a magnetic energy that convinces students who stumble to try again.

“I can, is equal to or greater than, IQ,” said Stephens. “It’s all about how we look at the power of ‘yet.’ I remind my students that they might not be there yet, but with hard work, they can get there.”

Stephens likens that teaching philosophy to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous quote, "If you can't fly, then run. If you can't run, then walk. If you can't walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving." 

“It’s all about motivating my students,” Stephens added.

Stephens is aware of the diverse population at Springfield. As a result of that, the books in her library reflect that.

“We have many students from several different countries,” said Stephens. “I want them to find themselves in the books we offer here, and I want students to learn about their classmates by getting to know each other and then turning to those books for further information.”

It was important to Stephens to create an inviting library environment. She has increased her English Language learners' selection of books so that her Spanish, Arabic, Ukrainian, Russian, and French students see themselves reflected in the offerings.

“Between expanded book offerings and storytelling, we also connect with each other using creative time,” said Stephens. “This is an opportunity for students to do a craft or something related that is represented in the book. That free creation time allows students to work together and independently. It’s built a love of reading among my students.”

Stephens knows that students will only excel if they can read. Her lessons and activities are designed to build confidence and self-esteem through choice, volume, consistency, and collaboration. 

Outside of the library, Stephens is a member of the Charleston County Association of School Librarians, South Carolina Association of School Librarians, and the South Carolina Education Association. Organizations like these and others allow Stephens to learn, and grow to boast an ever-evolving library where students look forward to coming.

Middle school – engaging reluctant readers

Glenda Kern, Haut Gap Middle School teacher-librarian, goes beyond measure to ensure the selections in her library are diverse. She believes that students read not only to see themselves in stories but also to learn about others.

Kern learned that fact over the years as she watched the habits of young readers evolve. After being a classroom teacher for nearly fifteen years, Kern earned a graduate degree in Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina to serve as a teacher-librarian, joining Haut Gap in 2012. Using her classroom experience and extensive literacy knowledge, Kern works closely with the ELA teachers in the school to create mini-lessons that relate to their classroom work. These lessons focus heavily on group discussion, independent reading, and student book talks and reviews of books.  

“Coming to the library is about more than just checking out a book,” said Kern. “My job is to promote literacy by instilling a love of reading. I create displays in the library with a focus on monthly thematic topics. For example, with Women’s History Month, I highlight particular books or authors about or by women. Sometimes I highlight books that are part of the standards taught in science and social studies, focusing on the standard those teachers are teaching at the time.” 

Kern also offers incentives through in-house competitions and district-wide initiatives like Beanstack. She said the ultimate in reading promotions is when the students begin to talk about books with each other, giving verbal or written reviews.

A bonus to students at Haut Gap is a back-door path to the public library, where Kern takes students on special field trips.

“I consider it exposure to even more books,” said Kern. “I just want them to read more, so if a trip next door excites them about reading, then I am going to make that happen.”

Kern is also determined to ensure that the selection in her school library mimics the demographic makeup of her students. For example, 31 percent of the school population is African American and 27 percent is Hispanic. Kern makes it a yearly goal to build the Haut Gap library collection to reflect those numbers whether it is finding authors or characters in the story that students can relate to. 

To stay in touch with what kids want to read and what her students are reading, Kern joins them in reading what interests them.

“That way, I can lead them in the discussion, talk to them about the book, suggest books to students who I think might enjoy them, and participate in our school reading goals or activities like a recently formed book club,” said Kern. 

Through the years, Kern has seen a shift in the library's role in a school. She credits Christy James for creating a district-wide culture that makes libraries the central hub of each school.

“By reiterating the importance of libraries, she has boosted our partnership opportunities, created a continued path toward improvement, and opened doors to collaborative relationships with each other so we can be the best we can be,” said Kern. “The library could very well be considered the backbone of any school.”

High school – the hub of the school

Ashley Murray is a teacher-librarian in her third year at North Charleston High School (NCHS). She arrived at the school as things were returning to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone in the building was looking for some sort of normalcy, and they found it in the newly renovated library space.

“I wanted to make the library a place where people could grab a book, hang out with friends, study, or come to me for resources,” said Murray. “The renovation opened things up, so it is inviting and welcoming. It resulted in exactly what I hoped for, and now the library is a vibrant part of our school.”

Like school libraries across the district, NCHS boasts a diverse collection representative of the students in the building.

“They see themselves in the books we offer, and the content is relevant to what they enjoy,’ said Murray. “We have a lot of books, so I have them organized to allow students to identify the genre they are interested in easily. I also do rotating, themed displays so students can quickly find and grab a book they are interested in.”

Unique to NCHS is Murray’s commitment to going into classrooms and conducting reading and writing workshops with students.

“Comprehension and interest create a love of reading,” said Murray.

Murray also hosts a book club twice a month called Lunch and Read. She chooses books that are up for national awards. Students write in journals about the books they are reading, and there are opportunities to share their reading experiences. Membership in the book club started at 20 and has increased due to word of mouth.

“This library is a place where students can come and feel safe,” said Murray. “I have built relationships with the students here, and they are comfortable coming to me and talking about themselves, their lives, and their experiences. I can learn about what interests them so that our book collections reflect that.”

In partnership with the school’s Title 1 committee and Parenting Department, the library offers a list of summer reading possibilities and a packet that includes the books for students to take home and enjoy. Additionally, Murray organized book giveaways during the school year.

“This is a special school, and I love my students,” said Murray. “I want this library to be the hub of the school, so students want to come in here not just to read or check out books but to feel the love I have for them. In here, we are family.”