on why there’s no time to present like the present…

I hope this post finds you festively preparing your winter break reading lists! I am currently forcing myself to finish My Brilliant [Zzzzz…] Friend by Elena Ferante for our Faculty Book Club meet-up in January (Sorry, I dozed just thinking about it for a moment there. Not really my cup ‘o tea as you might’ve guessed. Hahaha!). Offered here only for purposes of entertainment and not intended to be recommendations of these titles in any way, shape, or form, my winter break reading list includes:

If I did not love my job as much as I so thoroughly love mine, I would know that as of today two days of instruction and three days of exams stand between me and the start of winter break. Since I love my job so much, however, all that I know is that I have just 5 days to joyously continue adding contents notes to the catalog records for books in our Hawaiiana collection with a song in my heart before my administration forces us to shut down the library for two weeks and two days… #Alas I won’t be able to joyously work on enriching our catalog records for two whole weeks! #Sigh



On Presenting

This month I have conference presentations on my mind. I’m just going to say it. If you are a school librarian you need to present about what you know, and what you do. For a librarian, what we know and do everyday is simply… What we know and what we do everyday in the course of doing our jobs. For most of our colleagues and administrators, however,  what we know and do everyday is a mystery. When it comes to being a school librarian, being a mystery is NOT a good thing.

I actually presented quite sparingly for most of my life as a librarian, but participating in the professional community beyond the bounds of our institution is a significant part of the DNA of the school culture here at Mid-Pacific. When I moved here it became quite evident that my colleagues, including our administrators, made time to write for publication, shared “the Mid-Pacific story” on social media, and presented at conferences.

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 8.00.44 AM

Good advice from Twitter!

If you’re anything like me as you are reading this, you’re thinking, “I’m a practicing school librarian. I don’t make a living giving speeches. Seriously, I’m just trying to figure out how to help my students understand that The Economist, Reason Magazine, and The National Review cover topics from different perspectives…” If that is you, then I’m here to tell you that YOU DO have important knowledge to share!

As a “non-expert,” taking the dive into presenting at a conference can feel incredibly uncomfortable and weird. Over the last few years, however, I’ve learned that the benefits gained are well worth the effort that it takes to dive in and learn swim in that particular pool of awkwardness.

Some Thoughts on Presenting in no Particular Order…

You Know Stuff that Other People will Find Amazing –  When I first started submitting conference proposals, it typically felt weirdly uncomfortable because I didn’t feel like I was an expert on anything. My reality is that I am a practicing school librarian that tries to figure out how to teach what I need to teach. What I’ve come to realize is that some of the best presentations I’ve ever attended at conferences were presented by practicing educators who were “just figuring stuff out” for themselves, but who were willing to share their work with a broader audience. Putting quotation marks around a phrase in a Google search is “everyday stuff” to us as librarians, but it is magic to someone who doesn’t know how to phrase search. Imagine where education could be if teachers and librarians could learn from the collective wisdom of others rather than figuring most of it out on our own!

Promote School Librarianship – School librarianship has a marketing problem. We do a lot of good work, but when English or biology teachers retire, rarely to never is there a question that the position should be filled with a qualified English teacher or biology. Librarians do not enjoy the same privilege. We need to be better at explicitly sharing the value add that our programs bring to our respective institutions. Presenting at conferences is a good way to educate non-librarians about the value of school libraries.

Stamp a Due Date on Reflection – One of my biggest challenges as a librarian is the never-ending, open-ended nature of so much of our work. Weeding a collection is never really done. Catalog records are never completely cleaned up. There are always additional notes to add to records that will give students better keyword searching access points to books in the Hawaiiana collection. When the task has no end and I don’t have clear markers of progress, I tend to get discouraged and unmotivated. I’ve learned to use conference presentations as a way to impose deadlines for reflection on myself. Two or three times a year when I have to have something cogent to say about some aspect of my programming I am forced to think deeply about what’s working and what isn’t. In the end, the value to my own programming and emotional well-being is greater than to anyone in an audience I might address.

Forced Analysis – I typically propose presentations either on something that I’m doing or that I want to do in the near future. When forced to synthesize my thoughts into a coherent 45-60 minute form for an audience, I’m forced to look closely at why what I do works or why what I tried to do didn’t work. In the throes of day-to-day survival in the library, when I make time to reflect, I’m often surprised at how much instruction I deliver out of habit rather than because it makes sound pedagogical sense. Putting a presentation together about what I’m teaching drives me to do analysis that goes below the surface.

Telling Your School’s Story is Good Business – I don’t know about you, but I like having a good medical plan, making a decent wage, and having a well funded 403b retirement plan. We don’t always think of it so, but an independent school is a business and telling your schools story–making the good work you do known to people beyond your school community is good for business. A school with full enrollment has a far better chance of having a well funded library than one that doesn’t have full enrollment.

Build Your PLN – Every time I present, I meet people interested in the in kind of pedagogy I want to practice or I meet people wrestling with the same kinds of issues I’m wrestling with in my work. Presenting has proven to be one of the very best ways of developing a robust PLN around!

The Presenters’ mindset… (Things I do to Take the Pressure Off!)

Remember that You’re Not Selling Yourself as an “Expert” – When you present, share your context as a practicing librarian and let people know that you don’t see yourself as an “expert.” Educational audiences will be extremely supportive.

Put the “Rule of Two Feet” in Play – The second or third slide in any presentation that I do typically puts the “rule of two feet” in play. Adopted from EdCamp-style unconference gatherings, the rule of two feet is that if what I am presenting isn’t useful or relevant or helpful to you, please feel completely free to get up on your two feet and venture forth to make the best use of your time by finding another session that will provide what you need. In return, I PROMISE to not be offended or hurt by the action. Professional development opportunities for teachers and librarians are rare. Why should any of us sit through  sessions that don’t help us move us forward as educators. A presentation that is perfect for participant A might be totally irrelevant to participant B and we should all be okay with that. When the rule of two feet is in play, I figure that people who stay are getting something useful and I can stop worrying and get on with things.

Start with Strangers – This one is probably a little counter-intuitive, but I find it far easier to present to anonymous strangers than to people that I know. In terms of feeling pressure as a presenter, the toughest audience I ever face is my own faculty. I always make an effort to present at my best, but if I bomb in front of an audience of people from other schools, I’m highly unlikely to ever see them again. If I bomb in front of my own faculty, I lose a lot of hard-earned credibility so I tend to feel the pressure a lot more even though objectively the audience is completely supportive and completely friendly.

Consider Presenting at General Education Conferences – Some of my first conference presentations took place California Association of Independent Schools conferences where I was presenting to educators who were not librarians. Audiences at events like these are always friendly and seeking the kinds of knowledge and skills that librarians have to offer, yet they’re very unlikely to know more about any library related topic than an AISL librarian. An audience like that might be a great place to start if you have reservations. If you’re looking for a great presentation opportunity, the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools co-sponsors the wonderful Schools of the Future Conference here in Honolulu every fall. I would SO LOVE to see AISL presenters at next year’s conference!

Edited, 12/13/17, 7:45AM, HST.

Get a Little Help from Your Friends! – Almost forgot to include one of the most important things about presenting. Get a little help from your friends! Back in October, I was struggling horribly with a presentation for the Schools of the Future Conference so I turned to fellow AISL librarians Tasha Bergson-Michelson and Christina Pommer who very graciously looked at my dumpster fire of a presentation (we’re talking almost 80 slides for an hour-long preso…) and helped me get my head around that which was really pertinent and that which had to be sent to the cutting room floor. Sometimes you just need someone who will tell you, “Uh, you have a full day’s worth of stuff here and that’s all well and good, but since you have 60 minutes, YOU REALLY NEED TO EDIT…” in the kindest way possible. Ask for help! We’re librarians, we LIVE to help, right?!?!? Hahaha!



Always take a selfie with your audience and post it to social media because, you know, otherwise it doesn’t really count as having actually occurred. LOL!

Happy holidays, all!

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#freedomforgirls: a Library and Dance collaboration

Something real is happening in our 6th-grade dance classes. Inspired by the hashtag #freedomforgirls and Beyonce’s Facebook post sharing Global Goals’ new music video to her own song “Freedom”, our girls have taken real-world issues and turned their paraphrased research into paraphrased dance.

The end of the music video challenges the viewer to help in fighting for a series of “global goals” by the year 2030 and our girls jumped and pirouetted at the chance to try. Working in groups to create pieces that raise awareness about an issue, the girls are using their dances as a call to action.

The International Day of the Girl music video cycles through many shocking facts that surprised and confused the girls.

Are these facts true?

How did we not know this was happening?

How can we spread this information?

The first question was one that prompted the dance teacher, Lisa Yanofsky, to ask for my help to co-teach two of her classes, and we held our first ever dance/research class in the dance studio. The librarian’s presence in the dance studio was met with some confused and concerned faces; but as I reminded the students of our digital resource tools, it was great to watch their faces as they made the connection that they could use the tools in ANY subject or situation, not just history or science research.

As they delved into our databases, researching injustice against girls, our girls began to ask and answer more and more questions. Learning that girls who are forced into marriage as a child don’t have beautiful elegant white dress weddings as they imagined but instead are overpowered and not free to have thought or education (“Is this the beginning”). Discovering that, at least, one member of their group of four could experience domestic violence in her lifetime (Cloos).


Realizing that the gender wage gap affects everyone, even female soccer teams (Das). Attempting to understand the difference between education as a right and as a privilege and who is helping protect the right (“Girls Education Network Launch”). Primarily using Gale databases, our girls collected facts and figures they believe would be impactful to their audience. All ideas that they never imagined researching in “dance class”.

During our next dance/research session, they worked independently to paraphrase their facts and develop an opinion based on each fact. The next step was to take that research directly into the creation of their movements. Literally moving the paraphrased fact into a paraphrased motion. Listening to them plan out their movements was really wonderful and seeing facts of 1 in 4 become visual ideas and movements was fascinating. The girls connecting that they could show the weakness of policy changes by becoming weak in their movements was something I have never experience in a research paper.

I would love to do more projects that move researching outside of the core subject and into passion-based projects. If it wasn’t for Lisa’s project ideas and invitation into her dance studio, I would not have experienced this amazing project. The girls are still working hard to perfect and complete their dance but I hope you enjoy this short sneak peek of their #freedomforgirls dances.


Work cited
Cloos, Rhonda. “Domestic Abuse.” The Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health, edited by Laurie J. Fundukian, vol. 1, Gale, 2013, pp. 256-258. Global Issues in Contextlink.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2760500075/GIC?u=lnoca_hb&xid=5037e6f7. Accessed 1 Dec. 2017.
Das, Andrew. “Female stars accuse U.S. Soccer of unfair pay; 5 players file suit, saying women’s team earns less despite a better record.” International New York Times, 1 Apr. 2016. Global Issues in Contextlink.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A447947119/GIC?u=lnoca_hb&xid=ed64bd3b. Accessed 1 Dec. 2017.
“Girls’ Education Network Launched [press release].” Africa News Service, 12 June 2017. Global Issues in Contextlink.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A495426699/GIC?u=lnoca_hb&xid=a65835d6. Accessed 1 Dec. 2017.
“Is this the beginning of the end of child marriage?” CNN Wire, 16 June 2015. Kids InfoBitslink.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A430185596/ITKE?u=lnoca_hb&sid=ITKE&xid=c5d0b2a1. Accessed 1 Dec. 2017.
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My Philosophy of K-2 Library

Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas.
That’s what they’re made for! Now I want you to go out there
and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy of life, too.
They don’t come along every day. Look out! There’s a big one…

John Ashbery, My Philosophy of Life

As soon as my working papers were signed, I began as a page in the children’s department of my town’s library (I remained in their books in some role until I moved to Georgia in July 2014). On Wednesday nights the librarian on the desk would let me read once I’d gotten the books shelved and the shelves edged. For about a year I read the same book every night from 8-9. It was The Favorite Poem Project by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz and I began to build my personal canon. John Ashbery was among the poets in Wednesday book. In the intervening years, I’ve come back to his poems again and again, often when a phrase pops in my thoughts in his words, not mine. I found myself going to another favorite, My Philosophy of Life, a few weeks back when a colleague addressed a group email to the “elementary library braintrust.” The request was simple, “ideas, insights, and thoughts” on developing their school’s K-2 library collection and curriculum. Where to start? What was our own experience?” I balked. First: Why would anyone think I had wisdom to share? Then: Could I write what was true? The email response I sent is below (modified slightly):

“I’m going to out myself here- I don’t do formal lessons with my pre-K3 through 2nd grade. All my fixed classes for pre-k3-4th grade are 30 minutes total and I am unwilling to give up check-out each week. My first year I aligned all my storytimes with what they were studying in class and kept a fastidious spreadsheet of my lessons. The same for the years thereafter. As I began to put together my whole school curriculum and scope and sequence, I came to the place the philosophy I have now for my lower school classes: no formal lessons- my only goal is instill a love of learning and reading, a love that serve as the solid foundation to build the skills and tools and ethics to harness their curiosity in middle and upper school. The library is where my students experience choice and I feel strongly (though I’ve never voiced it until now) that that is my (the library’s) primary purpose and concept for them to engage with. It is a “class” where they do not get grades and they can learn about whatever they would like. For the little ones, this is where they get to choose and I want there to be as much joy in this as possible. On December 1st, my 3 year old class checked out books for the first time and hugged them for the walk down the hill to their building. One among them updates me on the state of her library book every time I see her (“I am taking good care of it.”). This photo below, this is my philosophy of lower school lessons.

Initially I typed this draft as a reply-all, because I would like to engage in a larger conversation about this. But then, my pride jumped it in- I don’t have my words down on this, on what I believe. I would say though that my background is children’s services in a large suburban public library (14 years) and college academic book publishing (8 years). While I completed an additional “media specialist” certificate since I started as a school librarian, I’ve never been a classroom teacher (the AP Research seminar and a middle school “library” elective are the first graded I’ve taught/wrote syllabi for). I kept this in my drafts for a week and then finally thought, Well, not sending it isn’t going to make how I feel untrue and it will give me a weird feeling of shame. Reassurance, a solid “me, too,” often what I’m looking for. This sense of hands flailing AM I DOING THIS RIGHT (this is the best visual I have of what I’m feeling as the oldest person in the room at any given moment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJ0i5Ede8V4)

I’d be interested in the responses you’ve gotten. I wonder too if some of what you need is what I need too: to be gentle with myself and my expectations of how to measure success. To me, when I read your note, I simply thought of how great it was to have the services and the desire to be more and better rather than that the number of books was appalling. This is always easier said to someone else than done for myself.”

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Florida Maps-Cartographers & Makerspaces

What a great idea one of my third grade teachers had this year. Since her class was doing a research project about Florida she divided them into groups and they each had a specific topic to learn about and then display that knowledge on a map they would design. This would enable them to research, learn, show, and represent.  They were to learn about Florida through different aspects. The teacher divided her class in teams of two students that had complimentary skills and work ethics. The areas for exploration included Florida landmarks, populations, topography, waterways, highways, regions, ecosystems, indigenous tribes and the economies of Florida. Each group drew the outline of Florida and came to the makerspace to explore the materials they would use to portray their findings. Students were first able to research their topic, allowing them to see ways in which their topic was already represented. Then it was their turn to brainstorm ways that they could show their research to the class. The teacher and the students thought the makerspace would be a great asset to expanding the student’s idea of how they could show off their learning. Here are the results:

It was amazing to see children turn pipe cleaners into trees and orange buttons into oranges to represent Florida’s orange groves. Tissue paper became waves moved with littlebit components and colorful duct tape was used to divide the regions of Florida. They were so excited to work on their projects and they were always on task. They did their project share with other classes as well as for their parents. It was another example of how creative students can be when we give them time and freedom to express what they learned in ways we could never have dreamed of.







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Looking For A Holiday

It is hard to believe that we are already heading into winter break. Every year the fall goes faster and faster. Before I know it, Thanksgiving is on the horizon and I am stressing about writing reports. I always have the initial first duh moment where I wonder, what I have been doing for the last three months. I know I have been here every day working, but what am I really doing? As a former classroom teacher, I continue to struggle with crafting curriculum that fits into forty five minutes twice a week. Sometimes, as I am planning I think I am pure genius. This should be my first clue that it is going to blow up in my face. What appears so perfect in my imagination, just doesn’t always apply to reality. An example of this is my use of PebbleGo recently. A first grade teacher requested that I do holidays with her students. Since I just finished character and setting and exposing students to different religions and cultures is a perfect tie in to our mission I thought it was an okay idea. I normally try to stay away from looking at cultures solely through celebrations, however, I convinced myself this was an easy entryway into bigger conversations. Also, it was the perfect chance to introduce research in the most gentle way. Students were directed to find one way the holiday was celebrated. Using technology to have the information read to the students, plus videos, plus pictures. Woo Hoo! Win! Win! Win! Except when it isn’t. Since I have the luxury of seeing the first grade in small groups I decided to split them into pairs and have them each research a fall or winter holiday. As this is the first time I have the class on computers independently, I chose the holidays: Diwali, Chinese New Year, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. I knew the students already knew a lot about Christmas and I wanted them to explore something new. After the students had the opportunity to learn about a holiday in PebbleGo, I invited the students to draw a picture about something they learned and then write one sentence in their best kids spelling. So here is where pure foolishness was masquerading as genius. These students did NOT want to learn about a holiday different from their own. Students who celebrated Diwali didn’t want to learn about Kwanzaa, and students that celebrated Hanukkah did not care about Chinese New Year. Students who celebrated Christmas begged to be able to research Christmas the next time. Which makes total sense. Children, especially young children, get so excited when something from their personal lives comes up in the school day. The connection with home is just too delicious and everything else fades from view. So of course it makes much more sense to have the students read about holidays they celebrate and then share them with a friend.
So this week I am letting the students choose the holiday they want to investigate. Then I am going to ask the students to compare the holidays for similarities and differences. I’m going to do this with a four corners activity first and then a classroom discussion. I already know I am in trouble because as I’m writing this, I’m already thinking, “This is going to be great!!!”


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Measure for Measure : A Surveyor’s Guide

Measure for Measure : A Surveyor’s Guide

The AISL listserv recently had a discussion of reading preferences, digital vs print, and someone asked about student practices. I was able to zip over, open a file, and respond that our students have shown a steady preference for print, particularly for leisure reading:  71% prefer print, 8% prefer digital, and 21% don’t care about format.  For research, 50% prefer print, 15% prefer digital, and 35% don’t care about format. These ratios have been fairly stable over the past several years.


I had those numbers at my fingertips is because those questions have been included on our annual student survey for the past 5 years.  An annual survey is a challenging tool. It’s tricky to build, and arguably trickier to interpret, but it can provide supporting information to help craft your curriculum in the most useful direction, or to make an iron-clad case for a much-needed capital improvement project.


We use SurveyMonkey to create our surveys. Our school has a subscription so we’re able to incorporate useful ‘advanced’ elements like Logic, which allows respondents to be routed to different sections depending on how they answer multiple choice questions. Our 2017 survey was sent out last May 16. We sent the survey out via all student email, following that up with a reminder on the 22nd. This year we had 339 responses, out of an Upper School population of 970. The number of respondents fluctuates yearly, and we’re always trying to increase the number. In 2013 we had 260 responses, in 2014 we had 382, and in 2015 we had the highest number of responses ever with 474. That number has been dropping again. I’m thinking adding a (candy?) reward for those who fill out the survey may bring more responses. It’s clear we also need to work on our promotion of the survey.


There is always need to achieve a balance between creating a survey that is comprehensive and one that is brief enough to be quickly completed. Our most recent survey had 27 questions divided into 3 different sections (or ‘pages’ in SurveyMonkey lingo). I’m not confident in our arrangement of pages, but here’s how we do it for now.


* Overall Library Experience includes questions on what year you are, what libraries you use, do you ask a librarian for help with specific resources, (that one includes an ‘Other’ box), How could your experience be improved, has it been ever too noisy, and Silent Study use. Silent Study is our ‘absolutely silent’ room with 36 carrels that is used for study and testing. When Silent Study works well, I’m not so worried about noise in the rest of the library, so this is a vital question to track


* Library Resources asks if students have skills required to effectively search a database such as JSTOR or ProQuest: (yes, no, sort of and a box for “please explain”), how easy or hard was it to manage citations, do students buy books for research (and if so, why?), do students prefer print or digital, and have students ever taken a book out without checking it out (and if so, why?).


*Recreational Reading explores whether students use library materials for leisure reading, which format is preferred, and if students were aware the library had various materials available. This section also has a box for “any suggestions for books, magazines or other resources”, as well as a box for “anything else you’d like to comment on not covered in the survey”.


As I look at it now, I can see a number of changes we may incorporate for our next survey. For one thing, by naming these pages in this way we may be causing students to alter their progression through the survey. By calling the last section “Recreational Reading” we may inadvertently lead students to quit early, thinking they don’t do anything called “Recreational Reading”, so they don’t need to continue.


Interpreting Results

Each year I comb through the survey results for useful data. It’s important to be consistent with some questions because then you can compare responses from year to year. If you alter your questions too dramatically, you lose the ability to gauge changes over time.

Like other librarians, we hope to provide a positive UX: User Experience. Many survey questions reflect how students interact with library staff. With one question, we were noticing a reduction in the number of students who would ask librarians for help from year to year. My first reflex reaction was that we must be scary librarians and don’t encourage return business.  Then I noticed the following answer in a ‘tell us more’ box: “During one of our history classes, a librarian came in and told us how to use the catalog and datbases, so I did not have to ask for help”. A carefully crafted survey will help tease out reasons for the answers students give.

Another caution: before wigging out at one specific negative response, look at the numbers. Even though 339 responded to the survey, it might be that only 8 people answered a question. Data may show that 25% of students don’t like a particular thing, but if only 8 students answered that question, and 2 didn’t like that thing, then that would account for a 25% negative response.

Acting on Results

A few points of action come to mind as I reflect on our surveys. When we started seeing student comments mentioning discrepancies between teachers’ instructions and librarians’, I knew I needed to touch base with the team leader to clarify where we may have strayed apart in our presentations. It turned out that a new teacher had not been managing things the same way as the other teachers.

Another important point came from a question asking whether students felt they could successfully search a database. This number responding ‘yes’ was lower for Sophomores, higher for Juniors, and – surprise—lower again for Seniors. Looking at this facet of the survey, it makes perfect sense. We teach information literacy to our Sophomores and Juniors, but we don’t teach Seniors, in large part because many teachers assume (falsely, it seems) that Seniors ‘know this stuff’. We can use these details as support for adding Seniors to our curriculum.

On a practical note, last year’s survey indicated many students wanted more soft seating, so we got 2 additional beanbag chairs. They’re a big hit. We also had students asking for more carrels. No, we didn’t go out and buy more carrels, but we are more aware that they are a valued commodity, so we patrol more often and keep students from ‘claiming’ a carrel as their own private territory between classes.




Each year I learn more about our library, our program, our strengths and our challenges. It is important to have a staff meeting to discuss the survey soon after it is complete to take note of how the survey worked ‘this year’, discussing about how it might be changed for next year. A final piece of advice: never ever send a survey out on a Friday. Ever!

Our survey is one of the most important tools we have to help improve our library. Do you have a survey you find useful? Please share it here. I’ve included a link to the questions on our 2017 survey. Let me know what you think.




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Guatemala: A Country in Flux, Part 2

In this second part of our two-part blog series on Guatemala, we will share with you another organization that needs your help, as well as an excellent programmatic opportunity for your schools related to Guatemala…Thanks for reading!

Grassroots Community Assistance

Numerous non-profit initiatives sprang up throughout Guatemala after the civil war. Some, like Safe Passage (discussed in Part 1 of this series), were started by visitors and activists from other nations, while others are home-grown. One such example of a grassroots foundation is Fundacione Corazones Libres (FUNCOLI)--or the Free Hearts Foundation.

(Photo Courtesy of FUNCOLI)

In the mountainous region just beyond the city of Antigua lie the Vuelta Grande, Agua Colorada, and La Cumbre communities. FUNCOLI serves over 200 families in these communities which are largely Mayan and subsistence farmers. Because the areas are quite isolated, education and health services are not accessible. FUNCOLI’s mission is to “provide health services, education and local development to people of limited resources, with the aim of promoting empowerment and economic growth in these communities”. FUNCOLI’s Learning Center now serves 28 children between the ages of 4 and 12. Students attend daily classes, receive a nourishing meal, and participate in art workshops.

At the medical and dental clinics, adults and children receive free medicine and consultations twice a month on Sunday mornings. Additionally, FUNCOLI has provided motivational workshops for adults, donations of eco water filters, and support for local community leaders’ negotiations with the Municipality of Antigua in an effort to obtain potable water.

(Photo Courtesy of FUNCOLI)

While staying in Vuelta Grande, we happened upon FUNCOLI quite by accident. Unbeknownst to us, Ingrid, the proprietress of the guest cottage we were renting, is one of the founders of the organization. FUNCOLI’s  learning centers and medical clinic were a short walk from the cottage. During our stay at the cottage, we were given a tour of their learning center and the medical clinic. FUNCOLI’s facilities are modest. It is touching to see how much love and thoughtfulness are being put into these spaces with very limited resources.

Over the next  two years, FUNCOLI is aiming to expand their workshops for adults in areas such as literacy, carpentry, sewing, crop cultivation, cooking, clothing design and plumbing, in addition to constructing or improving upon the learning center facilities (bathroom, kitchen, cafeteria, storage area). Just recently, the Learning Center received donated computers for providing computer classes to both children and adults. The computers are stored, somewhat insecurely, at the foundation.  Due to the isolation of the foundation’s location, they need to install a chain link fence and lighting for security. Installation of the chain link fence is estimated to be approximately $7,500.

FUNCOLI is also in need of providing all-weather driving access to the foundation, and for local farmers for the purpose of working their fields and extracting their harvest of flowers and vegetables.  The intense rains common to Guatemala wash out the road and make it impossible for vehicles to extract the harvest. Construction and expansion of the Foundation has been greatly limited due to the inability of receiving construction materials. Construction costs  associated with improved road access are estimated to be approximately $5,000.

If you are interested in helping FUNCOLI realize its mission,  the best way is to contribute a monetary donation (postal service is practically non-existent in Guatemala). Donations may be sent via a bank transfer through one of the following channels:

  • BANCO AGROMERCANTIL, 7TH Ave. 7-30, Zone 9, Guatemala, C.A. Tel: (502)2338-6565 Ext. 92002-92066
  • Instructions for receiving monetary transfers from the US, via Citibank: NA Citibank, New York, NY, ABA 021000089, SWIFT CITIUS33, To: BANCO AGROMERCANTIL DE GUATEMALA, S.A., GUATEMALA, C.A., SWIFT AGROGTGC, FUNDACION CORAZONES LIBRES, Cuenta No. 31-4002954-6, 14 Calle A 15-27, Zone 10, Oakland, Guatemala

(Photo Courtesy of FUNCOLI)

Related programming for your schools…

We all know that building awareness in our students can lead to inspiring positive action. If you are looking to educate students at your school about Guatemala, then look no further!

My (Laura) first real entry into gaining an understanding of Guatemalan culture was a documentary film. In the Fall of 2014, tipped off by more than a little hype, a colleague and I watched the documentary, Living On One Dollar, a film chronicling the experiences of several college seniors who conducted an experiment whereby they farmed radishes and lived in rural Guatemala on one dollar a day. The filmmakers endured sickness, hunger, and fatigue to generate awareness about what it is like to live in poverty in the developing world. This experiment spun off into the Change Series, a 6 episode series about six issues that Guatemalans living in extreme poverty confront every day complete with ancillary multimedia resources and a curriculum packet.  After viewing the film, we subsequently rushed to book one of the project’s central creators and speakers, Chris Temple.

Anyone interested in helping young people understand the realities and challenges faced by the poor of the developing world would do very well to have Chris visit their school. He is a charismatic, engaging speaker who connects with young adults in an effervescent way. Most importantly, he inspires empathy from his audiences.  Living On One Dollar sparked an outpouring of donations from viewers raising over $750,000 for education and micro-finance work for the village featured in the film.

Chris and his collaborators are still active with their work in Guatemala, but have since branched out to explore and understand the Syrian refugee crisis. They were the first embedded filmmakers to live inside a refugee camp, where their second film, Salam Neighbor was filmed. The film led to the dynamic web collaboration between Chris, Google, and the UN: Searching for Syria. Both Living on One Dollar and Salam Neighbor are on Netflix. I encourage you to check them out! 

(Photo by Laura Bishop)

About the authors:

Laura Bishop has been “librarian-ing” for thirteen years now. Previously she was a Senior Children’s Librarian for The New York Public Library, and the Middle and Upper School Librarian at Léman Manhattan Prep. Laura is currently in  her fourth year as the Director of the Library and Media Center of The Hun School of Princeton, where she is fortunate to activate her passions for social justice, travel, and cultural competency work through the Cultural Competency Committee, advisement of the gender equity group, and chaperoning global immersion trips abroad.

Maria Falgoust is the librarian at the International School of Brooklyn (ISB), a Nursery–8th grade independent school in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, New York. ISB offers French and Spanish language immersion programs as well as an International Baccalaureate curriculum, which is reflected in their multilingual library collection. Prior to ISB, Maria worked at The American Overseas School of Rome (AOSR) and Saint Ann’s in Brooklyn Heights, NY. She is serving as vice president of the Hudson Valley Library Association (HVLA) for a second term, is an organizer of the Building Bridges Through Books  book club through the Human Rights Pen Pal organization, and is on the planning committee for NYSAIS Education and Information Technology Conference.

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Guatemala: A Country in Flux, Part 1

This summer, we (Laura Bishop, Maria Falgoust and Maria’s sister, Katie Falgoust) took a two week trip to Guatemala. Like good librarians, we researched, chatted up everyone we knew who has traveled/lived there and gathered information before planning our itinerary. Our primary goal for the trip was to experience Guatemala’s beautiful landscapes and culture, but we also wanted to see and understand some of the realities of life in modern-day Guatemala as well.  Everyone we spoke to (as well as every guide book) emphatically advised us to skip Guatemala City due to the crime and extreme traffic. As a result, we limited our time there; however, we did manage to get a glimpse of what life is like for some in the capital through a visit to Safe Passage (more on that below.)

In order to understand the needs and present conditions of Guatemalan society, it is important to take a look back at their history and understand the forces most strongly affecting the country today.

(Photo by Laura Bishop)

Guatemala in context…

2016 marked the twentieth anniversary of the end of Guatemala’s 36 year civil war. The war began in 1960 with a rebellion that attempted to overthrow the military regime; this regime was installed with help from the CIA six years earlier when it assisted with the overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected president who wished to implement land reform largely benefitting the indigenous populations, while compromising the interests of private corporations including that of the United Fruit Company, an American corporation. The conflict disproportionately affected indigenous populations who made up the majority of the over 200,000 killed or “disappeared”.

Along with Honduras and El Salvador, Guatemala completes what has been termed the “Northern Triangle Countries”. Maras, or gangs, are responsible for the vast majority of violent crimes and extortions which plague the country today. Large numbers of Guatemalans have been fleeing their homeland for fear of forced gang initiation, violent crime, extortion, and an overall lack of economic opportunity, including a large number of unaccompanied youth. This number of asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle spiked dramatically between 2000 and 2015. In 2000, the number of people born in those countries was reported at 1.5 million, with that number jumping in 2013 to a reported 2.7 million.

In Guatemala, efforts such as the “Sweep Up” plan have resulted in mass incarceration of gang members, but this has not stemmed the tide of the high incidence of extortion (considered the central source of gang sustenance) since a staggering 80% of extortions are believed to be “commanded” from within the prisons of that country.  The heavy fortifications in some Guatemala City neighborhoods–security checkpoints to enter, and locked, high metal walls barricading the facades of many of the buildings within the neighborhood–stand as a testament to the high rates of crime and increased fear of gangs over the past twenty years.

While numerous crime statistics continue to place Guatemala as one of the countries with the highest rate of violent crime, recent homicide statistics  demonstrate a downward trend and provide hope. In addition, Human Rights Watch notes that the Guatemalan government is making progress with prosecuting human rights and corruption cases. Together Guatemala’s Attorney General and the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), have made important strides in bringing perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity during the civil war period to justice. Included in these was the court convictions of two former military officers for sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery against 15 Maya Q’eqchi’ women. According to Human Rights Watch, this was the first time the Guatemalan courts tried a case of sexual violence related to the civil war conflict.

The CICG–which receives substantial funding from the U.S–has also played a pivotal role in investigating and exposing corruption. One of the most high profile cases being the million dollar tax fraud case involving the country’s then president, Otto Pérez Molina, and led to his arrest and resignation in the fall of 2015.

The Obama administration earmarked $750 million for the Alliance for Prosperity plan for FY 2016. The guiding principle behind the plan is to address the root causes for mass emigration from the Northern Triangle countries, and thus reduce the numbers of undocumented immigrants coming the the U.S. It is subsidized by the foreign aid the U.S. gives to the region and seen by proponents, which include Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, as a long term solution.

What we found…

Guatemala is a beautiful, accessible, and traveler-friendly place to visit. Its numerous micro-climates, forests, stellar hiking, and rich Mayan heritage are, unfortunately, often overshadowed by its reputation for crime. Like anywhere one travels to, one should certainly exercise caution, stay alert and be vigilant and street-smart in Guatemala. I’d say we did all of the above, and perhaps that’s why we experienced no troubles in this area!

In both Antigua and Lake Atitlan we found numerous artisan cooperatives. Weaving (back-strap) or textiles, coffee, chocolate, and herbal remedies are just a few examples of the types of enterprises one can find there. Run by women from various indigenous groups, these cooperatives not only produce beautiful examples of Mayan and Guatemalan culture and natural resources, they are symbols of the resilience of the Guatemalan people and an act of cultural preservation.

The needs and challenges  in Guatemala, however, are significant. While we were there, we heard about many non-profits working to improve daily life for Guatemalans. Here we will share two we had the opportunity to visit.

(Photo Courtesy of Laura Bishop)

Non-profits working toward change…

Safe Passage, is a non-profit that focuses on providing education, health care and other programming to some of the 60,000 children and families who work in and around the city’s dump. Watching Leslie Iwerk’s moving documentary, “Recycled Life” about Guatemala City’s toxic landfill and Safe Passage’s work convinced us to check it out.  

Leaving at 5 am from our cozy mountain lodge, we happily arrived at Safe Passage where we learned about the history of the founder, Hanley Denning, a native Mainer. In 1999, a friend brought her to see the dump and slums surrounding it. People who couldn’t find steady work would go to the landfill to collect materials to sell for recycling. As big trucks barreled in and out, methane and toxic substances were everywhere, and the workers’ children were exposed to all of it. Hanley felt driven to create a safe place where the children could be children, meaning that they have a safe place to play, learn, eat healthy food and be treated with dignity. She accomplished her dream when she founded Safe Passage later that year. Though Hanley tragically died in a traffic accident in 2007, her vision lives on. Today, Safe Passage serves 500 individuals a year!

On our tour, we had an armed bodyguard with us, in addition to our driver and tour guide. Our first stop was the landfill. As vultures swooped in and out, we stood on a precipice in a city cemetery to see the landfill and learn about everything that goes into it, from toxic hospital waste to household garbage.

Most of Safe Passage’s students live in cramped, squalid and unsanitary, makeshift houses that their families build using materials they find. There is no running water or electricity. Many of the parents are illiterate.

(Photo from Safe Passage)

Today, Safe Passage’s campus includes three schools, a community center and an office building. It provides health care, dental care, character education, an expansive well-rounded education, healthy meals and much more. In their schools, committed, certified, local teachers practice a Montessori-style pedagogy. An Expeditionary Learning curriculum is offered as an alternative approach to the style of education offered in most schools in Guatemala, where the focus is on rote learning and memorization.  Teachers at Safe Passage offer care, hope, skills and spark curiosity. In stark contrast to the dump, the courtyards at the schools are thoughtfully designed, meticulously kept and full of flowers and colorful murals. Students are also provided with the essentials they need to attend school: uniforms, school supplies, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and social services. Safe Passage continues to support their students after graduation by paying tuition at a public or private high schools (both cost money) and by providing a variety of support services including tutoring and job fairs. Parents and grandparents also get support in the form of workshops, literacy lessons, education and community fairs.

Visiting Safe Passage (and the library in particular) hit a nerve. It was impossible not to compare the experiences of the children who live in or near the dump to the experiences of the children who attend our independent schools. So much of what we take for granted is non-existent for the children of Safe Passage: access to quality, new books, teaching supplies, databases and general safety. Despite the dramatic differences in resources, the vibe of the classrooms throughout Safe Passage felt very familiar: lots of learning, group work, joy and colorful art work. It was clear that the founder’s vision to create a space where “children could just be children” had become a reality.

(Photo from Safe Passage)

Safe Passage’s library made us see how the AISL community could potentially contribute. Librarian Jessica Marchina gave up an hour to talk with us about the library, which currently holds about 4,000 volumes. As trained and experienced school librarians, we could get a group together to help out with cataloging, processing and even collection development. As connectors, we could potentially inspire other schools to host book drives to boost both Safe Passage’s library and classroom collections. A little goes a long way in Guatemala City!

What you can do to support Safe Passage:

  • HOST A BOOK DRIVE and collect books in Spanish (preferable not translated) for children ages 12 – 17 (this is the age-range they are in most in need of.) Ship the books to their office in Maine at 81 Bridge St # 104, Yarmouth, ME 04096. Volunteers will bring the books in their suitcases because Guatemala currently has no public postal service and private companies can take three months to arrive!
  • FORM A SUPPORT TEAM FOR A COMMUNITY SERVICE TRIP with your school’s community service director/coordinator to bring a high school group. Volunteers must be at least 15 years old.
  • SPONSOR A CHILD OR MOTHER OR A CLASSROOM by holding a fundraiser.
  • ORGANIZE A GROUP OF LIBRARIANS to volunteer in the library and assist with cataloging. Email Safe Passage at volunteers@safepassage.org for more information.

Now we know we are preaching to the choir but quality literature offers us more than just knowledge; it encourages imagination and a respect for a variety of points of views and it gives us  a broader sense of the world and the options it holds.  Your donation of time, effort, books or money could provide these students with hope and change their lives.

~Stay tuned for part two of this blog post on Wednesday, November 29th~

About the authors:

Laura Bishop has been “librarian-ing” for thirteen years now. Previously she was a Senior Children’s Librarian for The New York Public Library, and the Middle and Upper School Librarian at Léman Manhattan Preparatory School. Laura is currently in  her fourth year as the Director of the Library and Media Center at The Hun School of Princeton, where she is fortunate to activate her passions for social justice, travel, and cultural competency work through the Cultural Competency Committee, advisement of the gender equity group, and chaperoning global immersion trips abroad.

Maria Falgoust is the librarian at the International School of Brooklyn (ISB), a Nursery–8th grade independent school in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, New York. ISB offers French and Spanish language immersion programs as well as an International Baccalaureate curriculum, which is reflected in their multilingual library collection. Prior to ISB, Maria worked at The American Overseas School of Rome (AOSR) and Saint Ann’s in Brooklyn Heights, NY. She is serving as vice president of the Hudson Valley Library Association (HVLA) for a second term, is an organizer of the Building Bridges Through Books  book club through the Human Rights Pen Pal organization, and is on the planning committee for NYSAIS Education and Information Technology Conference.



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Prepping for Exam Week in the Library

We’ve just had fall term exams at Mercersburg Academy and I wanted to share a few things that we did to help kids relieve stress. As a boarding school, students are able to come in to the library during the evenings for study hall between 7:00pm and 10:00pm. This makes it even more important to have stress outlets!
Stop. Puzzle Time!
We put a 1000 piece puzzle behind the circulation desk and let the kids go crazy! We had students stopping by Sunday-Wednesday and a few who were determined to finish it before they left for break!
They really enjoyed being in a “restricted area” and it helped break down the boundary that is created by our monster of a desk.
Coffee Break
Our library is located across campus from the student center, so students who wanted coffee during evening quiet hours had to sign out of the library and then sign back in after getting it. This year, we tried out having a large carafe of coffee in the Research Commons and the kids loved it! The coffee was available from 7-10pm on the three evenings before full days of exams.
Bubble pop!
 I bought a big roll of bubble wrap and cut it into squares. We put it out by the research desk and let kids pop it to relieve stress. For two of the days it was out, the students were respectful and really enjoyed the bubble wrap.
However, one night during evening quiet hours the bubble wrap was distributed throughout the library and we could hear little “pop! pop! pop!” all night. Definitely not ideal. This one is definitely repeat at your own risk! If you try this at your library, I would suggest having an adult stationed by the bubble wrap at all times to remind the students to be respectful of those who are trying to study.
Coloring Books
A perennial favorite for stress relief, coloring books are a great exam week option. We put them out around the library with some colored pencils. The kids seemed to enjoy them, though they didn’t get as much use as in previous years. Perhaps this trend has run its course?
Are there any things that you do to help students de-stress during exams?
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Following Through on Book Clubs, and, Windows & Mirrors

Over the last few years, avid and ambitious readers among the students and staff have pitched their book club desires to me. Naturally I’m game, but as our clubs and organizations already are challenged by finding time to meet I admit I’ve been pessimistic about book club success. A handful of times such an effort would result in one meeting and then fizzle out. This year I’m giving it another go, inspired by two things. First is our newly formed Global Diversity Council, comprising students and faculty members and tasked with ensuring “effective diversity engagement, inclusive excellent practices, a multicultural environment and curriculum, equitable activities, and social justice actions.”

The second was a recent well-timed article from Teaching Tolerance, in which Chelsea Tornetto writes:

“A story is often the most effective way to create personal connections between very different people. Reading a novel allows us to see the world through someone else’s eyes, remove the context we are used to and replace it with something new. We are more prepared to accept things beyond our own experiences because we know we are reading a ‘story,’ and yet we also actively search for similarities between our own lives and the lives of the characters. A novel can begin to open students’ minds and shape their hearts, without doing battle against their sense of self.”

While this is something we all know already, evoking Rudine Sims Bishop’s often referenced “windows, sliding doors, and mirrors” metaphor, I read it at the right time. This past summer our faculty and staff read Global Dexterity by Andy Molinsky, and the last line of this quotation points beautifully to the concept of this title; that we can find and should seek ways to effectively engage, identify with, and relate to people who are culturally different from ourselves without compromising our own identities and values. Reading about a fictional yet realistic character’s experiences is a safe way to practice this, which our school community wants and needs to do.

This article reminded me how simple yet powerful a program this could be, and with the right book, the right group to participate in and promote it, and enough (widely publicized) pizza, it could be a success.

This feels a little hard to say, but one of the stumbling blocks our book clubs have faced in the past is perhaps too much student ownership. I think my belief in wanting to give students voice and choice in this type of activity may have deprived them of a valuable experience. Of course I would like student voices heard and student ownership of our selections and discussions, but well-intentioned as our students may be, they, like all of us, just don’t always have time to do “extra” things like prepare, make posters, and successfully book talk an extracurricular novel. Reminder to self – reading promotion, awareness of current publications, and facilitating discussions about literature are my job. Those things aren’t “extra” for me. So maybe, for the students to have a great experience, a little adult (read: librarian) ownership is not such a bad thing.

I went to a GDC meeting last week and shared this idea. Rather than asking for book suggestions from the students, I said “The first book will be The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and first meeting will be during lunch on December 13 in the library with pizza. I hope that if we decide to continue the book club that you folks will have some suggestions.” An interested buzz made its way around the room, so that’s good enough to forge ahead.

Then I sent this poster to Upper School students, faculty, and staff:
Window and Mirrors Book Club

With interest and partnership from the GDC, I think this will go very well. Our library collection holds copies of this particular title in three formats, and the GDC was able to purchase a few copies for students, faculty, and staff to bring home over Thanksgiving break. The books came in yesterday and three copies had already been claimed by 8:30 this morning. I’ll spring for the pizza.

I would love to hear about others’ Windows and Mirrors Book Club successes, stumbles, and book choices. My hypothesis is that we will need to choose very current titles representing diverse identities and experiences, personally invite some folks who might not be paying attention to emails and announcements, and make sure everyone knows about the food.

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