June 22, 2017

Subscribe to SLJ

School Librarian of the Year Finalist Andy Plemmons: Expecting the Miraculous

Finalist | Andy Plemmons | Barrow Elementary School, Athens, GA Photo by Amanda Greene

Finalist: Andy Plemmons, Barrow Elementary School, Athens, GA
Photo by Amanda Greene

This summer, Andy Plemmons didn’t take a break from his duties as school library media specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary School in Athens, Georgia. He attended the Google Teaching Academy in Atlanta in June and a program at Evanced Solutions in Indianapolis. He spent time on Twitter (personal, @plemmonsa; and professional, @barrowmc) and Google Hangouts, sharing ideas with other media specialists. He updated his school’s blog (barrowmediacenter.com) and his own Facebook page.

“I feel like I have an obligation to give support and ideas,” says Plemmons, 35. “I’m not just supporting the people in my building. There’s a larger community out there.”

The community is inspired by his example. Plemmons has a philosophy of using participatory culture to “expect the miraculous”—his school library’s motto, an idea drawn from Kate DiCamillo’s Newbery Medal-winning book Flora and Ulysses (Candlewick, 2013). He’s now in his seventh year at Barrow, serving over 500 students in a semi-urban college town, where the media center is literally the center of the building.

In that epicenter, PreK students recently used the story-creation app Storybird (storybird.com) to craft digital stories, while kindergartners turned to the program Chromville (chromville.com) for their narrative writing. When kids experienced software glitches, “the class ended up Skyping with [the developers],” he says. Meanwhile, first graders used Google Earth to preview a walking field trip, and second graders created a persuasive black history campaign with the help of the video discussion tool Flipgrid (flipgrid.com).

When second-grade teacher Kate Wright wanted to push the envelope for her social studies unit on notable Georgia natives in history, including Martin Luther King Jr., Jimmy Carter, and Jackie Robinson, she consulted Plemmons. “Andy thought we could create a Web page and have students vote for [which person deserved to be on a stamp]. Time and time again we come to Andy and say, ‘This is the subject we want to do. What ideas do you have?’”

Plemmons grew up in the small-town community of Blue Ridge, Georgia, and attended college at the University of Georgia, where he also completed a master’s degree in children’s literature and language arts and a specialist degree in instructional technology.

Plemmons augments his teaching by creating partnerships—with the local public library, on puppetry and summer reading initiatives; with local families for informational sessions on technology and job skills; with the independent bookstore to connect with authors; as well as Home Depot.

“Home Depot collaborated with us on our Little Free Library [littlefreelibrary.org] project by building and donating two libraries,” he says.

The library received a free 3-D printer, thanks to Plemmons. “Twitter is always open on my computer, so I looked down between classes and saw the announcement from MakerBot that they’d partnered with businesses and they were going to give printers to as many people as they could,” he says. By the end of the day, Plemmons had finished an application, and his school was the first to receive the donated equipment. A local grant supplied $1,000 for a new robotics program. Plemmons supplements his $6,500 budget with two book fairs, yielding $3,000 annually.

“What I want to work toward are projects where…..if I’m doing a project on composting and someone in Argentina is doing the same project,” they’ll collaborate and give each other ideas, Plemmons says. He has already brought together people from afar. During last year’s Hour of Code, a global event focusing on comptuer science, his students brainstormed with Indiana participants via Google Hangouts. Plemmons and a fellow librarian also used Google Docs to organize a World Read Aloud Day with students from 50 locations including 22 states, two countries, and nine authors.

“He’s turned the media center from a place where kids consume content into a place where they can create content,” says Courtney Tobin, whose two children attend Barrow.

“He’s made me a better teacher, so I’m in his debt,” adds Wright. “He’s constantly trying to learn new things and better himself, to become a better teacher and role model for Barrow.”

Okyle-Carly_Contrib_WebCarly Okyle is a journalist who has written for FamilyCircle.com, YourTango.com, and Guideposts magazine, among other publications. Her blog, TheDCard.net, is a candid look at living with disability issues.

About the Award

SLJ is pleased to present the first School Librarian of the Year Award, in partnership with sponsor Scholastic Library Publishing. This inaugural award identified one winner and two finalists from a robust pool of 92 applicants. Thanks to all who nominated. Also, special thanks to judges from the field:

Evan St. Lifer, VP digital initiatives, new business development, Scholastic Library Publishing

Gwyneth Jones, teacher librarian, Murray Hill Middle School Laurel, MD, former board member, International Society for Technology in Education

Meenoo Rami, English teacher, Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia, PA

Mark Ray, director of instructional technology and library services, Vancouver (WA) Public Schools

Also judging were SLJ editors Kathy Ishizuka and Rebecca T. Miller. Please see slj.com/awards/school-librarian-of-the-year for more information.

This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Share
Day of Dialog Video Archive Now Available!
For the first time in Day of Dialog history, we offered livestream access for those unable to attend the event in person! Relive all of the Day of Dialog action from your library, office, home, or beyond by purchasing access to the archived video.
Empower Your Community with Coding
Launch a coding program in your library that will promote digital literacy and impact your community. You’ll learn how to run computer programming courses that will introduce your patrons to new career paths and technologies. We’ll explore all facets of building coding programming for your library such as making your case for funding, hosting Code Clubs and Hackathons, and curating free resources and technologies available online.