Recipients of the American Association of School Librarians’ 2021 awards and grants are slated to be honored during the organization’s national conference in Salt Lake City, October 21–23. The winners, sponsors, and volunteer leaders of the award committees will be recognized during AASL’s opening ceremony and general session and additionally feted at an awards recognition breakfast hosted by AASL. Here, we introduce some of the librarians and administrators who are being recognized for their accomplishments this year.
Calvert County Public Schools in Prince Frederick, Md., was named winner of the AASL 2021 National School Library of the Year Award. This award, sponsored by Follett, recognizes a single or district-wide school library that exemplifies the implementation of AASL’s national school library standards. Calvert County Public Schools will receive a crystal obelisk (the symbol of school library excellence) and $10,000 for its school libraries. In a statement, Lisa Brakel, who chaired the award committee, pinpointed what set CCPS apart. “Their libraries are led by exceptional school librarians who make the libraries a unique and essential place in the district’s learning community,” she said. “Working as a team they challenge each other to go above and beyond their daily work expectations and genuinely transform teaching and learning for everyone in their district.”
The 2021 AASL Collaborative School Library Award goes to Amanda Hurley, library media specialist for Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington, Ky. Scholastic Book Fairs sponsors this $2,500 award, which spotlights the innovative ways that school librarians and teachers work together to create and implement curriculum-supporting programs using school library resources. Hurley teamed up with math teacher Sarah Zehnder to develop a program called “Engaged2: Yearlong Math and Library Collaborations,” which includes 10–15 projects that educators can choose from to use with students in a given school year. One example that impressed the award committee chaired by Jennifer Powell was a semester-long project in which advanced geometry students were asked to research, plan, and design a renovation project for the school library. As the assignment progressed, students analyzed the needs of the library and its users, identified ways to improve the library’s space and service, created a scaled model of the renovation, and pitched the project to an audience of teachers, fellow students, and administrators.
Hurley and Zehnder faced the added challenge of implementing these interactive lessons during a period when schools were closed due to the pandemic. As a result, they turned an in-person project into a virtual one by joining forces with the Jessamine County Public Library, which allowed the educators to secure 360-degree images of the library and create an interactive field trip for their students using Google Tour Creator.
A project entitled “Empowering a Diverse Community of Learners Through Biographies” from educators at Gwin Elementary School in Hoover, Ala., has been selected the winner of the Roald Dahl’s Miss Honey Social Justice Award. Sponsored by Penguin Random House, the award consists of a $2,000 prize for the librarian as well as up to $1,000 travel and housing reimbursement to attend the AASL Awards ceremony, and a $5,000 book donation from PRH.
Library media specialist Jennifer Northrup, third-grade teacher Hali House, STEAM teacher Kelley Feagin, and outreach public librarian Katie Jane Morris drew inspiration from the diverse population of their school community to design a project that used biographies of influential Black Americans to help students better understand social justice and the real-world struggles their subjects faced. Though the project emphasized reading, writing, digital literacy, and information literacy, it also helped students develop critical social-emotional skills by exploring identity and empathy. As part of the collaboration, Feagin provided students with a way to present their final research reports using robotics.
The latest recipient of the AASL Distinguished School Administrator Award is Dr. April Grace, superintendent of Shawnee Public Schools in Shawnee, Okla. Grace was instrumental in implementing AASL’s National School Library Standards in her district prior to Oklahoma’s official adoption of them statewide. She created the position of district-level school library services coordinator to ensure that district librarians were sufficiently trained in the standards and that their library programs were aligned with the standards. Within her first few months as superintendent, Grace made moves to restore funding and staffing cuts (including full-time certified librarians), and to establish flexible scheduling. “The committee believes that Dr. Grace provides school librarians in Shawnee Public Schools with the whole package,” committee chair Susan Hess said in a statement. “This includes financial and staffing support, flexible scheduling, and access to professional development opportunities. She believes that the school library is the central core and heartbeat of the school and says that ‘if we want all learners to receive an exceptional and equitable education, then all learners must have access to a fully funded library with a qualified school librarian.’ ” In recognition of her contributions, Grace will receive $2,000 from the award’s sponsor, ProQuest, the library database and research-tool company.