Last summer, Lauren Magnuson, library media specialist at Kenwood High School, was one of 150 educators selected to participate in one of the weeklong Summer Teacher Institutes at the Library of Congress. During her week, Magnuson studied alongside librarians and classroom teachers from across the nation.
“We spent every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. studying how to use more primary sources in instruction. It was a new adventure,” Magnuson says, “and one history teacher here at Kenwood is taking the leap with me! The students love that they are doing all the work, that they are finding the answers.”
Magnuson knows a little something about new adventures and taking leaps.
After growing up in Baltimore and graduating from Dundalk High School, as her parents had done, she was inspired by Dundalk High teacher Allen Stockett to major in English education. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she taught in Virginia for one and a half years – and then took her leap: she moved to the island of Bonaire, about 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela. “It has about 8,000 – 10,000 residents, looks like Arizona, and has the best diving in this hemisphere,” Magnuson says.
Most students in Bonaire attended Dutch school. During her island adventure, Magnuson taught at an English school.
Twelve years, three children, one master’s degree in counseling later, Magnuson leapt again. She returned to the Baltimore area in 1994, worked at a psychiatric hospital and began substitute teaching at Dundalk Elementary School. From substitute teaching, Magnuson moved to paraeducator and parent support services positions.
Always a book person
Always a book person, Magnuson leapt at another opportunity, too. She entered a school library media specialist/instructional technology cohort program at Towson University and soon became a library media specialist at Perry Hall High School. That lasted for five and a half years, and she is now finishing her fourth year as library media specialist at Kenwood.
“I love being a librarian,” Magnuson says. “I get to do all the parts of educating I love the most: collaborating, co-teaching, sharing ideas, looking at the big picture. As the school library media specialist, you are always looking at ways to help the whole school population. You get to help everyone with embedding digital literacy in the curriculum. It’s also a creative position.”
One of the responsibilities Magnuson holds dear is choosing new books for the library’s 9,000 volume collection.
“For the last few years,” she says, “we have received some book money at the beginning of the school year and then, around Christmas, we get another allotment. I already have my list of books I want to purchase for 2017 - 2018. It’s an ongoing process: getting booklists, keeping track of which books win awards, reading reviews. To consider a book, it must have at least two good reviews and be appropriate.”
“I am always thinking about the types of books we need,” Magnuson says. “I want every kid in our school to be able to see himself or herself reflected in the collection. I always am looking for diversity of all kinds.”
Magnuson says that her work day starts very early. ”I try to get to school before 6:30 a.m. and walk a mile in the hallways,” she says. “By 7 a.m., about 30 – 40 kids will be in the library – working, hanging out, using computers, or sometimes seeking assistance. Throughout the day, different classes will be in. Usually then, I am doing mini-lessons and co-teaching.”
While many think of the library correlating with English and social studies classes, Magnuson works with teachers across all subject areas. “This year, I have worked with some math teachers on teaching students how to find reliable statistics and create infographics,” she says.
Kenwood also has a child development program in which students prepare for careers in early childhood education. “Because of that, I get to work with little kids, too, and to help the students learn how to read to young children – using different voices and sound effects, asking them questions, incorporating movement and props. The other day, they were doing a unit on spring, so I brought in flowers and tree branches from my yard, we read a book about spring, and we all got up and did a leaf dance.” The older students will implement the techniques Magnuson demonstrates when they read to their younger students.
From preschoolers to students preparing for college
Kenwood affords Magnuson the opportunity to work with preschoolers and with students preparing for college and careers. And, after all this time, she’s still indulging her passion for adventure and new challenges.
“I do a lot of work with AVID [Advancement Via Individual Determination] kids,” says Magnuson. “The purpose of the program is to get them ready for college. With the Grade 9 students this year, I have been teaching them about source citations, annotation, bibliography, and paraphrasing. I enjoy this because it helps the students understand that I also am a teacher and to know that they can come to see me on their own for other things. Year after year, we layer on more sophisticated research skills. For example with the Grade 11 AVID students this year, we are working with Google Scholar, and I am helping them learn how to decipher at academic research papers and studies.”
As she works, Magnuson says that she is always thinking about how the library media center can positively impact all 1,600 students at Kenwood.
“As we continue to implement S.T.A.T. [Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow],” Magnuson says, “one of the things that library media specialists are all thinking about is how to ensure that our program continues to be effective – how to build stronger relationships with students and teachers and ensure that they know what we can do for them. I have been doing a lot of work related to that, including making changes in the library to make it a very collaborative space that people can use.”
These efforts include purchasing library tables on wheels that flip down and can be used in different configurations; working with a carpentry teacher to create a display area for the environmental club; and allowing four International Baccalaureate students to use the library’s new Blue Feature Art Gallery for a curated exhibit. Magnuson says she wants to ensure that the library is a place of learning, a place for collaboration, and a place to access help.
Being with librarians from around the nation and talking to them about their resources helped Magnuson realize what a high priority BCPS places on its library program. “This school system has made a commitment to regular funding for libraries,” Magnuson says. “I love the folks in Innovative Learning and Professional Development for their support and collaboration.”
Also a huge help, Magnuson says, is the paraeducator Jane Hall, who works with her in the library. Hall assists individual students as Magnuson is doing instruction, shelves books, and assists with displays.
In all that she does, Magnuson seeks to build a community of lifelong learners at Kenwood. And she is well aware that being a lifelong learner herself means continually seeking new adventures and occasionally leaping into the unknown.For Lauren Magnuson, the adventures continue. All of them.