SDSM Libraries Driving Innovation in Learning

SM Libraries Driving Innovation in Learning
Elementary school libraryIf you didn’t know better you might lump your local or school library into the same category as the rotary telephone and dial-up internet. Quaint and nostalgic, but irrelevant when everyone has access to instant information on the smartphone in their pocket.
You’d also be wrong. The libraries of the School District of South Milwaukee are brimming with activity and staff who are challenging students to be safe online, to think critically, and to explore life in new and different ways. 
If libraries aren’t relics of the past, neither are the people responsible for them. The district has two full-time media specialists - one for the elementary and middle grades - and one at the high school. They’re well-read experts driving innovation and challenging how teachers teach and students learn. 
“In a school, libraries and technology go hand in hand,” said South Milwaukee High Media Specialist Betsy Daniels. “We work with teachers and help weave technology and information literacy into their curriculum.” She also instructs students on how to be critical thinkers about the sources and types of data they find on the internet for research assignments. 
“A modern school librarian works with students and teachers to find information, to analyze information both from print and media sources,” agreed Joanne Sobolik, the media specialist for the elementary and middle schools. “We’re making spaces both digital and physical that allow people to discover and to learn.” 
At the elementary level, time in the library is built into students’ weekly class schedules, just like physical education or art. Sobolik uses that time with students to teach about the serious business of online safety. She also creates exciting experiences, like learning centers where students become producers through active play, teaches coding and would like to get students to the point where students create virtual reality images with 360-degree cameras.
“That is what learning is,” she said. “Going from a consumer of knowledge to a producer of knowledge.”
And then there are the books. A library book, Daniels said, can be seen as either a window that lets you peer into another experience, a mirror that reflects your experience, or a sliding glass door that helps you step into another life you might have not experienced before. Both Sobolik and Daniels curate the books in the collection in the eight school libraries that serve South Milwaukee. “We make sure the books match the diversity of our students,” Daniels said. “They can see themselves reflected in the media we offer.”
The two are supported by a team of library assistants who staff the desks at each library. Those specialists lead elementary learning experiences, circulate books, help students with their Chromebooks, and help students find information. 
School can be a stressful place for students both socially and academically. Another thing the libraries are used for is as a pressure-relief valve - a quiet space to take a break. Daniels encourages teachers to recommend the library for a student – not as a punishment – but as a haven for students to regroup, do some work, and continue their day.  
“Most people don’t realize libraries are a safe place for marginalized people,” Sobolik said.
Whether it’s data literacy, learning, reading for fun, or just finding a quiet place, libraries are an important part of the school world. 
“Our children are full of joy, I love to be able to nurture that joy, just for life and for learning,” Sobolik said. “They have ups and downs, and they’re wonderful.”