2014 School Librarian of the Year Finalist Andy Plemmons: Expecting the Miraculous

The Georgia library media specialist seeks to support not just his students but the community.

This summer, Andy Plemmons didn’t take a break from his dutiesas school library media specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary School in Athens, Georgia. He attended the Google Teaching Academy in Atlanta in June and a program at Evanced Solutions in Indianapolis. He spent time on Twitter (personal, @plemmonsa; and professional, @barrowmc) and Google Hangouts, sharing ideas with other media specialists. He updated his school’s blog (barrowmediacenter.com) and his own Facebook page.

“I feel like I have an obligation to give support and ideas,” says Plemmons, 35. “I’m not just supporting the people in my building. There’s a larger community out there.”

The community is inspired by his example. Plemmons has a philosophy of using participatory culture to “expect the miraculous”—his school library’s motto, an idea drawn from Kate DiCamillo’s Newbery Medal-winning book Flora and Ulysses (Candlewick, 2013). He’s now in his seventh year at Barrow, serving over 500 students in a semi-urban college town, where the media center is literally the center of the building.

In that epicenter, PreK students recently used the story-creation app Storybird (storybird.com) to craft digital stories, while kindergartners turned to the program Chromville (chromville.com) for their narrative writing. When kids experienced software glitches, “the class ended up Skyping with [the developers],” he says. Meanwhile, first graders used Google Earth to preview a walking field trip, and second graders created a persuasive black history campaign with the help of the video discussion tool Flipgrid (flipgrid.com).

When second-grade teacher Kate Wright wanted to push the envelope for her social studies unit on notable Georgia natives in history, including Martin Luther King Jr., Jimmy Carter, and Jackie Robinson, she consulted Plemmons. “Andy thought we could create a Web page and have students vote for [which person deserved to be on a stamp]. Time and time again we come to Andy and say, ‘This is the subject we want to do. What ideas do you have?’”

Plemmons grew up in the small-town community of Blue Ridge, Georgia, and attended college at the University of Georgia, where he also completed a master’s degree in children’s literature and language arts and a specialist degree in instructional technology.

Plemmons augments his teaching by creating partnerships—with the local public library, on puppetry and summer reading initiatives; with local families for informational sessions on technology and job skills; with the independent bookstore to connect with authors; as well as Home Depot.

“Home Depot collaborated with us on our Little Free Library [littlefreelibrary.org] project by building and donating two libraries,” he says.

The library received a free 3-D printer, thanks to Plemmons. “Twitter is always open on my computer, so I looked down between classes and saw the announcement from MakerBot that they’d partnered with businesses and they were going to give printers to as many people as they could,” he says. By the end of the day, Plemmons had finished an application, and his school was the first to receive the donated equipment. A local grant supplied $1,000 for a new robotics program. Plemmons supplements his $6,500 budget with two book fairs, yielding $3,000 annually.

“What I want to work toward are projects where…..if I’m doing a project on composting and someone in Argentina is doing the same project,” they’ll collaborate and give each other ideas, Plemmons says. He has already brought together people from afar. During last year’s Hour of Code, a global event focusing on comptuer science, his students brainstormed with Indiana participants via Google Hangouts.

Plemmons and a fellow librarian also used Google Docs to organize a World Read Aloud Day with students from 50 locations including 22 states, two countries, and nine authors.

“He’s turned the media center from a place where kids consume content into a place where they can create content,” says Courtney Tobin, whose two children attend Barrow.

“He’s made me a better teacher, so I’m in his debt,” adds Wright. “He’s constantly trying to learn new things and better himself, to become a better teacher and role model for Barrow.”

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