Eye on ECCS: Media Specialists

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NOTE: Occasionally throughout the school year, we will visit a school across Eastern Carver County Schools. Some weeks the plan may be to stop in multiple classrooms by grade, or by subject. Other weeks it may highlight a certain specialist group. The purpose is to give families and our community a glimpse into the every-day learning environment happening in our buildings. A chance to spotlight the incredible work our teachers and staff do on a daily basis for our students, and to showcase the incredible work our students produce as well. So, keep your Eye on ECCS!

Linda Dierks calls the media center at Chaska Middle School East a “safe space.” At Clover Ridge Elementary, the media center is a space where creativity is sparked. At Chaska High School, the media center is so many things – a flex space, a group space, a quiet zone.

Media centers and media specialists in school buildings throughout the district play integral parts in our students’ daily experience. To celebrate “I Love to Read” month in February, Eye on ECCS visited one elementary, one middle school, and one high school media center.

A classroom teacher for 13 years, Samantha Mueller shifted roles at Clover Ridge Elementary in 2022 and moved to the media center. It’s a role she enjoys, and a chance to engage with every student in the building as they rotate through her space every third school day. 

Library day is a lot more than checking out books these days, but still an important part of the student experience.  Mueller prepares the media center book space with new themes each month to spark student interest and keep them engaged.

Media time at the elementary level is all about creativity and one of its roles is to serve as a “Maker Space.” Sometimes that means introducing students to different modes of technology. On the day of the visit, one student is producing her own project, while another student records himself drawing. Other students design a safe route around obstacles for their coding robot, Sphero. Others create bracelets, play chess, and explore on tablets. 

“Students beg for Maker Space. They all love to work on something that interests them,” Mueller said.

Kindergartners begin their media time with a story, “The Book With No Pictures.” Using Novel Effect, an app that follows along with interactive music and sound effects, the story comes to life. The students giggle and gasp as Mueller reads. 

One can understand, even in the quiet moments, the importance of the media center at Chaska Middle School East. Tranquil sounds encompass the second floor space that received a facelift as part of a two-year capital improvement project last summer.

The space is calm and inviting, an oasis during a transition time such as middle school where life can sometimes be hectic.

“It is a safe place for a lot of kids,” Dierks said. “When they come in, I want them to feel loved, to feel welcome.”

Dierks has transformed the space into a media center that serves many purposes, sometimes all at once. Everything in the space, from the different sized tables and chairs to the monitors that display nature (on this day, fish swimming in aquariums) is “intentional.”

Classes frequently come to the media center where Dierks teaches students how to research topics, how to navigate databases, and really find the answer to what they are looking for.

It’s within the pages of books where Dierks lives. “That’s my job,” she said. She reads anywhere between one to five books a week. She has a wall behind her desk that displays all of the books she has read this school year. Her deep knowledge of the media center’s book catalog goes a long way when trying to appeal to those both excited about reading and those who are a little more reluctant.

“It would be awesome if every kid was reading books, but that’s not the case, and so I try to find ways to pull the non-readers in, too,” Dierks said.

On one end cap, Dierks has a Connections display that’s a play on the popular New York Times puzzle.  Students have to identify what the common thread, or connection is, among the six books.  She and the East Student Council also held the “I Love to Read Month” book competition in February. The total number of books read among students was 2,137! A traveling trophy passed between top performing advisories each week.

How can you support reading at home?

A teacher in the district for more than 20 years, Jo Jacobson understands the importance of relationships with students and has worked to create a space that’s welcoming for all. 

“You get to know the students, know what they may like. I call them ‘my kids’ because I get to know when they will stop by. I get to know their schedules,” Jacobson said.

On this day, Jacobson bounces around the media center, helping students find a book that may interest them. Some come with an idea, others need a brainstorming session. There is also a class that has come down to check out books. Jacobson walks them through some options she has pulled and curated on small tables based on themes. 

Currently, Jacobson is running a March Madness of Books, a tournament-style competition among the 16 most checked out books over the past year. The winner will be announced on March 22.

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