Meet Kristina Holzweiss, SLJ’s 2015 School Librarian of the Year

 

By Grace Hwang Lynch on August 25, 2015

Photograph by Jesse Dittmar

Photograph by Jesse Dittmar

 

From her blog, entitled “Bunhead with Duct Tape,” to her maker space program called SLIME (Students of Long Island Maker Expo), SLJ’s 2015 School Librarian of the Year, Kristina Holzweiss, displays an energetic penchant for tinkering with traditional ideas.
The thought of working in a middle school may strike fear in the hearts of many librarians, but Holzweiss, the school librarian at Bay Shore Middle School (BSMS) in Long Island, NY, feels she can make the most impact with this age group. “Middle school is such a crucial time because the kids are making life decisions,” she says. “They’re going through those hormones….They’re listening more to their peers. They’re testing the waters.” But “they still want to be kids and learn.”
Holzweiss began her career as a seventh grade English teacher at the same middle school that she attended in Hicksville, NY. After nine years, she noticed that changes to New York State curriculum standards were putting increasing limitations on classroom teachers while librarians could do more innovative lessons that incorporate collaboration, communication, and presenting in multiple formats. In 2004, she earned a Master’s in Library and Information Science from Long Island University and embarked upon a new career.

A “LIBRATORY” FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

BSMS is a Title I school at which nearly half of the diverse student population qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch. Many of the 1,400 students receive English as a second language (ESL), special education, and academic intervention services. With the school library—which Holzweiss calls the “libratory,” a portmanteau of library and laboratory—Holzweiss has “single-handedly brought our library into the 21st century,” says Maryann Almes, a reading specialist at the school.

Culling the collection (“It’s not how many books you have on the shelf, but how many relevant books are on the shelf,” she says) was just the beginning. Gone are the card catalog and MARC systems, replaced by an innovative space with iPads, Chromebooks, and a whiteboard. Holzweiss rearranged 4,000 square feet of the library to create a maker space to foster hands-on learning. “We can’t keep teaching kids the way we did when we started teaching or the way we were taught,” says Holzweiss. “We live in a society that is always changing, and we have to change with it.”

When she created the maker space two years ago, its first supplies were some recycled yogurt containers and bottle caps. “I told the kids to make things. And they had no idea what I was talking about,” she laughs. Since then, she has created STREAM (science, technology, research, engineering, arts, and math) programming activities for students both in and outside of BSMS. Through the GENIUS Hour (Generating in Education New Ideas and Understandings for Students) program, focused on student-directed, inquiry-based learning, sixth graders use the maker space and work in small groups during class time. They can also sign up to use the maker space on their own during ninth period study hall.

“The stations have grown in popularity to the point where there is an early morning sign-up list for ninth period that is usually filled up before the end of first period,” says Jennifer Ingold, a BSMS social studies teacher.

Holzweiss fundraises aggressively to supplement her $9,000 budget. Through $25,000 raised via Donors Choose, the library houses equipment including ebooks, two sewing machines, a 3-D printer, iPads, Chromebooks, electronic toys (Snap Circuits, littleBits, and Spheros) and robotics (Dot and Dash, MiP, and Ozobots), along with household donations. Scholastic Book Fairs and Parent-Faculty Association donations bought a sound system, headphones, and new nonfiction books.

FROM K’NEX TO DELOREANS

In her buzzing libratory and beyond, Holzweiss remains dedicated to her original mission of supporting classroom teachers with creative ways to enliven lessons. She used LEGO and K’Nex building kits with English language learners during the GENIUS Hour as a low-pressure way for these students to try out their new conversation skills. Holzweiss and ESL teacher Claudia Leon received an $800 Donors Choose grant to buy the educational toys for Leon’s classroom. “She saw how much the kids were engaged with these building kits and she suggested ways in which I could combine learning English with building something,” says Leon. “She is a spark that lights many fires.”

In 2015–16, Holzweiss plans to do more to integrate subject matter standards with library programming and to provide a deeper learning of topics within the state curriculum goals. One idea is to work with classes for two-week sessions, integrating other curriculum, such as hosting Google Hangouts or Skype chats for students learning about different states.

Old-fashioned field trips prompt Holzweiss’s students to think about the world and their futures. Funded by a Target Field Trips Grant, she brought students to visit a farm in upstate New York to learn about animals and their habitats. And after screening the Back to the Future movies and becoming fascinated with the DeLorean car, she and students visited the Autoseum in Mineola, NY, to learn about careers in automotive technology.

SLIME AND THE COMMUNITY

Looking to engage students outside of her school, Holzweiss, with the help of Almes and Islip High School librarian Gina Seymour, opened up the BSMS maker space to 32 school districts on Long Island for the SLIME event, an all-day fair. She spent four months planning and raising $3,000 from local civic groups, such as the Rotary and Lions clubs, regional museums, and Farmers Insurance, which provided a grant. Fellow Long Island-area librarians helped publicize the event. During the fair in May 2014, 400 students tried their hands at over a dozen make-and-take activities. They also created items that could go to good causes, such as cards for soldiers, blessing bags for the homeless, or pillows for the local animal shelter. The event culminated in a Trash to Fashion show, where 20 contestants competed for the most creative design made out of recycled materials, such as empty juice pouches.

Holzweiss also trains other teachers at her school and in the community. “It is in her nature to share what she discovers,” says Leon. “She is supportive and will bend over backwards to help you incorporate her resources into your classroom.”

Holzweiss attended the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in June 2015, speaking about the GENIUS Hour program and moderating a discussion on project-based learning. Through SCOPE Educational Services, a Long Island nonprofit, she taught courses this summer to train teachers to create their own GENIUS Hours and maker space programs as well as how to use apps for education. During a recent quarterly regional school library system meeting, she led a session in which she shared tech tips.

In a School Library Monthly column called Common Core Corner, Holzweiss offers ideas for using web tools, such as Glogster, Piktochart, and PowToon, so students can learn curriculum standards while making interactive posters, infographics, and animated videos.

Holzweiss urges her peers to find the connection between the bounty of digital media and the invaluable wisdom and advice a librarian can bring, whether it’s about SLIME or evaluating resources. She says, “I believe a library is not a library unless there’s a librarian in it.”


Grace Hwang LynchGrace Hwang Lynch, a Bay Area freelance writer on race, culture, and parenting, blogs at HapaMama.com.

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