School Librarian, Cambridgeport School Library, Cambridge, MA
MSLIS, Simmons College, Boston, 2007
Cambridge Book Bike
Photo by Kristen Joy Emack
Thanks to the efforts of school librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro, students and their families at Cambridgeport School Library know that their voices matter. Through innovative programs, Phipps Soeiro builds strong and trusting relationships among students, families, and community leaders. “Liz gives kids [and families] the opportunity to find their civic voice and use it to fight for what is right,” says Audrey Sturgis, Cambridgeport assistant principal.
Her teaching makes issues come alive for students, connecting what they read in school to their lives. Students learn about research, communication, and advocacy and have lobbied local leaders for projects such as school playground upgrades and a “little free library” in a city park. Phipps Soeiro does not preplan projects for the year, instead letting students’ interests guide their efforts.
Phipps Soeiro is also the founder of the Cambridge Book Bike, a grassroots project that distributes books at city parks during the summer, with a focus on locations that serve free lunch. Over the past three summers, the program has grown from three parks to five and has given out approximately 6,000 books. The group partners with local organizations like the Cambridge Public Library and Food for Free, which provides free farmers markets. The program is “holistic,” Phipps Soeiro says, with a mantra of “full bellies, full minds.”
About five years ago, she introduced a weekly program called “Coffee and Conversation,” welcoming families and caregivers to the school library to discuss topics of current interest. About once per month, she invites guest speakers such as city councilors, district administrators, and nonprofit representatives to engage with families in casual conversation.
At these meetings, “families learn [about] what is available to them and have the opportunity to make personal connections with, as Liz puts it, ‘decision-makers,’ ” says Sturgis.
One meeting with a nonprofit led to families being matched with free tablets and math apps, while another prompted construction of a new playground. The meetings let people feel they are heard on topics that make a difference in their lives, the lives of their children, and the broader community.