For several years Leslie Vandegrift has used materials from the Educator Loan Collection to enhance reading lessons for kindergarten through third grade students. As the librarian for West Hills Primary School in the Armstrong School District, she’s put authentic objects to use in building vocabulary, sparking curiosity about the ideas conveyed through ever longer strands of words and sentences, and promoting the reading of all kinds of books. In the library of West Hills Primary, materials from the museum illustrating topics ranging from nocturnal animals to the wildlife discoveries of the Lewis and Clark Expeditions have helped diminish the 44 highway miles separating the two buildings.
When reached by phone a dozen days before the start of in-person classes, the 24 year veteran educator expressed concern about how the school year would proceed and whether her library could function as it did in the past. As she summarized, “The most challenging part of this new normal, is that the students will be unable to check out books for at least the first semester of school. There is zero sharing of materials in our school building in order to keep our students as safe as possible. It’s disheartening to engage students in new topic areas and authors, but not be able to allow them to pursue it independently.” Student well-being was her utmost priority, and she expressed pride in knowing that was also the case for every one of her co-workers.
If the spread of COVID-19 pushes her school to on-line instruction, Leslie expressed confidence that the transition would be far smoother than what occurred across the country back in mid-March. Days of in-service training in August were devoted to mastering the intricacies and capabilities of a digital learning management platform called “Canvas,” and the first order of business after the opening day of school will be getting the students comfortable interacting with the electronic interface.
Leslie’s description of the learning platform’s flexibility leads me to remind more teachers about the Educator Loan Program’s continued importance as a resource. Materials can be borrowed to create digital products. Cell phone still images or brief videos of authentic objects can improve lessons presented on learning platforms. Your productions don’t have to meet the standards of the library displays at West Hill Primary School for learning to occur.
Patrick McShea works in the Education and Visitor Experience department of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.