November 24, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Get on the Bus! Jan Wilson, 2017 Hero of Collaboration

“I really don’t feel like I’ve done anything on my own,” says Brookwood High School (BHS) media specialist Jan Wilson. In her eight years at this suburban Atlanta campus where over 80 percent of graduates attend college, Wilson has served BHS’s 3,500 students, teachers, staff, and surrounding community with initiatives from a learning commons to witty professional development to a school bus turned bookmobile that received 5,248 visitors this summer.

In 2011, BHS was the first among Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) to convert its library into a learning commons. With $8,000 from the Gwinnett Schools Foundation, district funds, and the BHS principal’s budget, Wilson and parent volunteers brought in new, movable furniture. The media center now holds 35 computers, along with scanners and two “mediascapes”—tables with monitors where students work on group projects.

Her staff development seminars include the popular Death to the Poster Board. “As long as you have a requirement and rubric, let them choose the best format,” Wilson says. “Try to make it real-world!” In Crap Detection 101, she encourages instructors to teach students to evaluate information from multiple sources. When English teacher Mary Britt asked for help getting students excited about reading, Wilson set up book “Speed Dating” where teens quickly browse titles. “Kids [who] dreaded reading now contemplate a novel for their final ‘date,’” Britt says.

As a member of the county media leadership team, Wilson brainstormed ways to help students avoid the summer slide. Instead of opening school libraries during break—not all kids have transportation to get there—she spearheaded the GCPS Book Mobile, a converted school bus spruced up with comic-book-style graphics. Funds for the $40,000 conversion came from the district, business partners, and donations; Wilson lent a hand cleaning the interior and installing vinyl flooring. The bookmobile made 245 stops in areas without a nearby public library.

Wilson established a partnership with the Five Forks branch of the Gwinnett County Public Library, recruiting a representative to serve on the BHS library committee and informing the local branch of school assignments. Five Forks representatives also visit BHS, bringing robotics, a 3-D printer, and more for Teen Tech week, and hosting a teen video competition.

“Jan is known among her peers as an innovative media specialist with a keen focus on instruction,” says Mary Barbee, GCPS director of media services. She works with the school science fair, building video archives of student projects; collaborates with math teachers on probability assignments; and helps students record and edit audio and video. “I’ll do [everything] within my power” to help teachers, says Wilson—which can result in three-day library projects or one-day lessons. The district pays for access to 61 databases such as GALE, ABC-CLIO, and Advanced Placement Source. Last year, her budget was $26,000.

Members of the Reading Club and the Reading Rally team,
which participates in quiz bowl–style competitions

Other programs she leads include a Shakespearean magician, open mic events, and trivia contests focused on pop culture and literacy. The library’s maker space days offer stations with Makey Makey kits, Osmo iPad games, pine plank sets, and marble maze building. In Wilson’s Reading Club, students from different backgrounds share what they’re reading—and have raised money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation and Boys & Girls Club. Sharing school spirit during the BHS homecoming parade, students and GCPS media specialists toss candy to the crowds.

Looking forward, Wilson aims to work with three to five new teachers each year. Named 2016 Georgia Media Specialist of the Year, she isn’t afraid of change: After 20 years as a school librarian, she earned an Ed.S. in Library Media in May.

About the Award

SLJ presents the fourth annual School Librarian of the Year Award in partnership with sponsor Scholastic Library Publishing. The award honors a K–12 library professional for outstanding achievement and the exemplary use of 21st-century tools and services to engage children and teens toward fostering multiple literacies.

This year’s award recognizes one winner and four finalists honored as Heroes from a strong pool of 42 applicants. The winner receives a $2,500 cash award, plus $2,500 worth of print and digital materials from Scholastic Library Publishing. The Heroes each receive $500 in materials of their choice from Scholastic Library Publishing.


Maker Hero: A standout creative individual leading the way in promoting hands-on learning with entrepreneurial and innovative programming in the maker tradition.

Hero of Equitable Access: A champion who promotes equal access to information, library services, and technology in his/her library and school, with particular attention to reaching the underserved.

Hero of Family Outreach: This model of engagement connects with families, helping meet the unique needs of the community and helping promote a home/school connection through the library.

Hero of Collaboration: An exemplar who demonstrates great collaboration skills, teaming with a teacher, staff, administrators, or community members at the local or district level—all toward benefiting students.


The 2017 Judges

Todd Burleson, 2016 School Librarian of the Year; Glenn Robbins, superintendent, Tabernacle (NJ) Schools; and the editors of School Library Journal.

Read more about the award.

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Grace Hwang Lynch About Grace Hwang Lynch

Grace Hwang Lynch is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has written for PBS, PRI, Salon, and BlogHer. Follow her on Twitter at @HapaMamaGrace.

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