Amanda Chacon: Community Champion | 2024 School Librarian of the Year

Amanda Chacon ensures a relevant, engaging collection and a welcoming library for her predominantly bilingual students and their families.

School Librarian of the Year

Amanda Chacon, Librarian, H. M. Carroll Elementary School, Houston’s Sheldon ISD
Photos by Felix Sanchez


Amanda Chacon was in the middle of her MLS program at Sam Houston State University in 2010 when she got hired for her first job as a school librarian at a Title I school in Humble ISD in Houston.

“Title I schools by law have to have a certain amount of community involvement, and I thought, this is just how it should be everywhere,” Chacon says. “It was a fantastic introduction to the profession.”

That community orientation still forms the foundation of Chacon’s librarianship. She has carried it with her as the current school librarian at H. M. Carroll Elementary School, another Title I school, in Houston’s Sheldon ISD, where, over the last seven years, she has built an environment that connects the library and the wider world.

“She really takes the walls away from the library and makes it part of the community,” says Heather Tyler LaBrot, a former STEM teacher at Carroll.

In everything she does, from diversifying her library’s collection to spearheading STEM initiatives and introducing a range of new programming for both students and parents, Chacon keeps that focus. Her tireless devotion sets Chacon apart as the 2024 School Librarian of the Year. The annual award is presented by SLJ and sponsored by Scholastic.

“I firmly believe the library is the third space,” Chacon says. “There’s the school and the home, and the library to bridge the gap between the two.”


Building a library without borders

Chacon always felt called to a life of service.

It’s what drew her to become an educator in the first place. She started as a high school English teacher, and then wondered if she could make a bigger impact beyond her classroom. Chacon considered taking on an administrative role or possibly becoming a school counselor. But after talking to the school librarians on her campus, she knew what she wanted to do.

Now Chacon is the sole school librarian at Carroll Elementary, where 93 percent of the population is economically disadvantaged. The roughly 650-person student body, from first through fifth grades, is 73 percent Hispanic and 22 percent Black, and primarily Spanish-speaking.

“I’m so passionate about my job. It’s the best job in the world,” Chacon says. “I form relationships with all the students in the school—students with behavior issues, students who fall between the gap because they are so quiet. That was me as a student. I was super quiet and kept my head down. But the librarian is the one who notices those students. I pay attention to all of them.”

“Elementary kids are a trip,” she adds. “Their interests change all the time, and you have to be fleet-footed. One day they come in and they are interested in ghosts, and the next, it’s space. What’s great about my job is that it’s always changing and never predictable.”

Chacon makes sure there is always something happening in her 3,000-square-foot library to keep her students engaged and excited.

There’s passive programming, like a “Would You Rather” display, where students gather to debate and vote between topics—like, would they rather be playing video games or sports? There’s a STEM section with a wheel students can spin for different challenges, like building the tallest tower or constructing something using only one hand; a dedicated maker space that includes LEGOs, Ozobots, and a Dremel 3-D printer; an interactive touch screen TV with library announcements and book recommendations; and a special “Reading Corral”—a spacious, cozy story time room nicknamed for the school’s mascot, the Carroll Colts.

All of this wasn’t the case when she started at the school. “The blueprint was there in the sense that it had windows and shelves,” Chacon says. “But for everything else, I’ve worked really hard to make it a welcoming space.”

Now, LaBrot says, “it’s a place everyone wants to be.”

Starting with a budget of about $3,000, Chacon transformed the space, supplementing her funds with as many grants as she could find. A Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries grant, a Believe in Reading grant, and an American Association of School Librarians Beyond Words grant only scratch the surface of her many awards over the years, which have largely gone toward expanding the library’s collection to reflect the diverse, bilingual student population at Carroll.

“When I came in, there were a lot of windows and not a lot of mirrors,” Chacon says, citing the lack of books that reflected the majority Spanish-speaking student body. “Even the books we had were written largely by white authors and translated.”

A collection already in need of improvement took another hit when Hurricane Harvey struck in 2017; many library books were lost in flooded homes.

Chacon has augmented the collection with Spanish-language materials and used additional district grants to fund student clubs, new technology resources, and community outreach programming.

One of her most recent grants will allow her to launch the district’s first seed library. “I’m very excited about it,” Chacon says. “In our district, quite a few of our elementary schools have gardens on-site that are run through the after-school programs. It’s so cool, but I really wanted to extend it into the community.”

Students will have the chance to take home seeds and pots to grow everything from chrysanthemums to carrots, along with bilingual planting instructions, to start their own gardens and learn more about sustainability and food insecurity, an issue that impacts many of Chacon’s families.

Chacon’s Books & Breakfast program is another initiative that has connected the community and the library. Once a year, families from every grade level come to campus for breakfast with their children. Chacon presents on the importance of literacy at home with the help of a Spanish translator, and each student chooses a book to take home to foster the development of home libraries.

During Books & Breakfast, Chacon brings in partners from the local public library who share programs and resources they offer to families, and to sign parents up for a library card on the spot. Books & Breakfast has become so successful that, in 2022, the Texas Library Association honored the program with a Branding Iron Award for best school library special event.

Solmaria Benavides, a former principal of Carroll Elementary, says Books & Breakfast was fantastic from the beginning and is indicative of all the work Chacon does to bring the community into the library.

“She makes a point to know all the kids and their families,” says Benavides. “She is always willing to have the library open and to have parents come in. She’s in constant communication not only through social media but social events to make sure parents know what’s going on in the library.”

Along with an administration and district that champion her work, Chacon says she feels extremely lucky that, during a time when so many school librarians around the state and the country are embattled, she has received nothing but appreciation from her families.

“The Sheldon community is very supportive of libraries,” Chacon says. “Anytime I hear about libraries or librarians needing things, our community steps up. Our community isn’t necessarily one with unlimited resources. It speaks to the kindness in their hearts, that they want to help us, and they recognize the role we play in their children’s lives.”

Chacon also manages the school’s website, social media accounts, and graphic design projects, and she is working to overhaul the school library website to better showcase the learning happening on campus. For all this work and more, she has been recognized by the Texas Library Association, receiving both the Texas Library Association’s Media Virtual Presence Award and the Texas Association of School Librarians MVP Award.



A STEM leader

Shortly after Chacon arrived at Carroll, Sheldon ISD selected a handful of schools to adopt a STEM focus. Chacon was eager to take part in the initiative and became the first teacher on her campus to receive her National STEM Certification. But that was only the beginning of her deep dive into STEM.

In addition to the makerspace and a robust collection of science- and technology-related books and resources, Chacon has expanded her programming to bring new STEM opportunities to the students, teachers, and families at Carroll.

One of those is Storybook STEM. Teachers pick from a menu of choices Chacon provides, with books and activities aligned to learning objectives for each grade. For one project, Chacon read Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate for students to learn about healthy versus unhealthy habitats for animals. Then, students built their own healthy habitats out of LEGO bricks.

Thanks to another grant Chacon received, she has been able to extend the program to families through Storybook STEM @ Home, which allows parents to check out kits, available in both English and Spanish, so students can complete projects at home.

Over time, Chacon has received her Future Ready Librarian certification, and she’s become a LEGO Education Ambassador and a Google Certified Educator. Most recently, she was one of 50 educators nationwide selected for the inaugural cohort of Amazon Future Engineer Teacher Ambassador program, which aims to increase student and teacher access to computer science and technology. She also leads librarian trainings in her district.

But of all her initiatives, the one closest to her heart might be STEM GEMS, an all-girls STEM club Chacon launched in 2018. Her goal was to create a safe environment for young girls to participate in no-tech, low-tech, and high-tech challenges.

Chacon created the curriculum and regularly invites guest speakers, including female firefighters, small-business owners, and scientists from nearby NASA, to meet with the club members.

The club has gone a long way in supporting young girls in building their confidence and excitement about the STEM field—something that’s critically important, as girls “decide by middle school if they are good at science, so giving them a chance to shine through all these opportunities before middle school can really change their lives,” says Heather Tyler LaBrot, Chacon’s former Carroll colleague.

“We’ve done a lot since it started, and it’s been very successful,” Chacon says. “It’s a safe, supportive space where the girls won’t be interrupted by the boys, and they won’t feel embarrassed.”

For one project, Chacon partnered with Svaha, an apparel company that makes science- and art-themed clothing, like a dress with the blueprints of a rocket. STEM GEMS club members had the chance to ask the company’s owner questions, design their own outfits, and share them with the company’s lead designer.

For another, students adopted an injured stuffed animal missing an eye or an arm, then learned how to measure and use Tinkercad to design a prosthetic piece that they built with a 3-D printer.

“Amanda always has the kids in mind first,” LaBrot says. “She learns what they are interested in, their passions, and helps them reach their potential and motivates them to try harder and do more.”

That mindset is what makes Chacon the award-winning librarian she is today, and after 14 years, there’s no job she’d rather have.

Andrew Bauld is a freelance writer covering education.

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