School Library Media Specialist, David C. Barrow Elementary School, Athens, GA
Educational Specialist (EdS), 2009; Master of Education in Children’s Literature and Language Arts, 2005; both University of Georgia
He loves the color red so much that friends have used hashtags like #redshirt or #redshoes when they tweet
Photo ©2016 Shawn G. Henry
A firm believer in “expecting the miraculous”—a phrase from an award-winning book that he’s made into his school’s philosophy and a blog that guides numerous media specialists—school librarian Andy Plemmons makes his lessons a blend of education, fun, and technology.
Consider how he expanded the Black History Month projects that every second grade class does at David C. Barrow Elementary School. Originally, the teachers said the kids would create a postage stamp in honor of a notable African American along with an essay. Plemmons took this several steps further by creating the Barrow Peace Price. “The kids learned about the Nobel Peace Prize and then used a Google doc to create the criteria [for the award],” Plemmons explains. They had to research their nominee, write a persuasive paper, argue their case in a 90-second Flipgrid video, and produce images of the candidate in art classes. Everyone in the school votes online for the award, which was designed by a student and printed with the media center’s 3-D printer.
“One of my big [goals] is to empower student voices,” Plemmons says. A schoolwide vote is one way to do it, and so are shelf talkers—the blurbs found at bookstores that show staff recommendations. Students Skyped with employees at a local independent bookstore and learned the best practices for writing shelf talkers; theirs were displayed at the library and on Flipgrid. All of the books recommended have been checked out, says Plemmons. “The bigger picture is to get kids thinking about leadership within the school and see themselves as more than students.”
Plemmons empowers students financially, too. When the school received a James Patterson Partnership Grant of $5,000, he turned the funds over to a group of kids, who surveyed 334 of their peers from pre-K through fifth grade using iPads to learn the most-wanted categories of titles. Then they met with library vendors, created a wish list, and debated which ones to cut. Students ordered a total of 346 new books.
This isn’t your parents’ school library, which is exactly what Plemmons wants people to know. “It’s not that I don’t do anything with books, but when I explain what I do, I start talking about big projects [such as] Maker space, world read-aloud day, and Skyping with authors,” Plemmons says. He also works individually with kids, as he did when he helped a boy who survived Hurricane Katrina recount his experiences and turn them into a poem. “[T]his is why I do what I do,” Plemmons says.