It’s always wonderful when something serendipitous turns out to be a walk down memory lane while simultaneously being a look to the future. Such was the way I spent a morning with Jennifer Skomial, New Jersey’s State Teacher of the Year, and Patty Huizing, Library Media Specialist, at Lakeview Elementary School in Denville.
Jennifer Skomial is the lead teacher at the Academy for Education and Learning in the Morris County Vocational School District. She is also an alumna of the Academy. Her role as an educator is to prepare future educators, and her platform as New Jersey’s State Teacher of the Year is elevating the teaching profession. The passion behind this platform is immediately evident. She loves what she does, and she wants to instill that love of teaching in her students.
In anticipation of School Library Month, I reached out to Jennifer Skomial to have a conversation with her about how she collaborates with school librarians at the high school level and how she can help promote school library programs while preparing future teachers. Jennifer graciously agreed to meet me during my spring break. Since her school was also on break, Jennifer contacted the Library Media Specialist at her former middle school. Marian Lezgus, of Valleyview Middle School in Denville, put us in touch with her elementary colleague, Patty Huizing, who generously agreed to host our meeting at Lakeview Elementary School.
Patty has been Lakeview’s Library Media Specialist for nine years and her newly renovated Media Center was warmly welcoming. Lakeview was my first school as a Library Media Specialist, and it was such a great feeling heading back. Turns out, Jennifer has history there, too. Lakeview Elementary School is where Jennifer’s students have participated in internship experiences as part of their graduation requirements at Morris County School of Technology. Students have the opportunity to be matched with teachers at the elementary level and participate as student teachers for 120 hours during senior year of high school.
Patty Huizing is perfect in her role as elementary school library media specialist. Patty sees her position in this K-5 building as one of teacher, collaborator, and support to staff and students alike. Patty’s attitude is upbeat and positive, and she knows there is a place for her and her library program in every aspect of her school.
Jennifer, Patty, and I were together for just about an hour, but managed to cover a broad range of topics. Both Jennifer and Patty have elementary-aged children, so Patty’s elementary Media Center was the perfect backdrop for a discussion about the importance of the library from the earliest ages. Jennifer needed to ask only one question to get the conversation started, “When I’m telling future educators about the possibility of becoming library media specialists, what is new and up-and-coming; what do you want them to know?”
Patty jumped right in, “I want teachers to know that our circle is widening.” At a time when librarians across the state are looking at changing roles, changing titles, and threatened positions, Patty shared her vision of what a librarian can be. In addition to a full-time library media specialist, Lakeview Elementary has a STEM teacher and a Technology teacher. Patty has worked to discover where these curricula overlap, and collaborates with the teachers to strengthen and support each other’s programs. This is Patty’s approach to all Lakeview teachers and programs. Patty has added to her collection the mentor texts for Reading and Writing Workshop, she learns the specific academic vocabulary used in the classrooms so students are hearing in the library what they hear in the classroom, thereby reinforcing learning. When a student stops borrowing books from the library, Patty works her Readers Advisory to find out what a student wants. If that doesn’t work, she finds the homeroom teacher and has a conversation about that specific student’s interests. She gets to know her students as individuals. She is constantly building relationships.
Patty knows that this kind of success only comes when you have support in your building, your district, and your community. Beth Baisley, principal at Lakeview Elementary, has always been a staunch advocate of the library program. When renovation of her Library space was on the horizon, both Mrs. Baisley and Mr. Evan Scala, vice principal at Lakeview Elementary, welcomed Patty’s input and suggestions, making her a constant in the planning. When Patty came to Mrs. Baisley to introduce a whole-school reading program, such as “One School, One Book,” she gave her the reins to run it with full support. Lakeview Elementary School shared Sarah Week’s Pie as their One School, One Book. The culminating activity was having the Culinary Arts students come to the school and teach Lakeview’s students how to make pie. This was a community connection Patty made on behalf of Lakeview Elementary. In addition, Patty has nurtured other community connections with the Denville Public Library and local business owners.
Communication and connections are vital, and that’s why Patty’s circle is widening. When asked what she likes to be called (School Librarian, Teacher Librarian, Media Specialist), Patty responded, “It doesn’t matter what you call me, just call me. Invite me to the conversation.” By the time our hour was done, Jennifer Skomial and Patty Huizing were making plans to continue the conversation we started. When Jennifer returns to teaching next year, Patty will be a guest speaker to the Academy’s students. Jennifer wants her students to know more about the opportunity to become School Library Media Specialists.
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