The library is the heart of our school. Stafford Middle School would not function the same without it. It is literally in the center of the building, wide open on both ends, beckoning students in with well-displayed books. Much of its success is owed, though, not to its central location, but to our wonderful librarian, Russell Puschak, and library aide, Carol Passno. Our library is an inviting place where students hang out after school, research during study halls, and check out books galore.
Since Mr. Puschak arrived and revamped our library, our circulation has increased over 200%! How did he do this? By researching what students want, staying ahead of trends, responding quickly to interests, and involving faculty and staff in his selection process. He hunts for book bargains so he can stretch his budget to the max, reserves funds for literature circle sets, and even manages to provide classroom sets of novels so all children can experience the same book together.
Having Carol Passno as our library aide also brings in the students. She is loving and kind to all of our students. She is genuinely caring. Not only is she nice, she is also a worker. If Carol doesn’t have a line of students signing out or returning books, she is bustling around the stacks, reshelving, tidying, and working on displays. With the circulation we have, there is always plenty to do, that’s for sure!
Recently our district decided to make cuts in staffing to meet budget deficits. Fortunately, Mr. Puschak was able to convince the powers that be that Mrs. Passno is a vital part of the operation, so her job was preserved and she will only be taken away to another building periodically. We are fortunate to have someone with his passion to fight for our school because the improvements in reading we’ve experienced should not be ignored.
There has been such an awakening at Stafford Middle School with reading. It began with Russell Puschak being chosen as librarian. It evolved when the ELA department, led by Kate Messner, encouraged daily school-wide SSR (sustained silent reading). It culminated with hundreds of students reading thousands of books.
Mr. Puschak explains an upcoming Spine Poem activity to some of my students.
This past year, I had many individuals in my class who read more than a book a month. A large percentage of them read at least twenty books during the school year. Those are the average and slightly-above average readers. My star readers read over sixty books since September. The ones that really pleased me, though, were those students who were basically non-readers who had a spark lit inside of them. One example: A student who transferred in told me he had never read a book on his own prior to this year. He read at least eight. Another student told me he would “fake read” before seventh grade. His “Top Five” list had seven books on it!
As librarians gather in Washington, DC, this weekend, one of the topics they are discussing is funding. Libraries are being closed, mothballed, all over the United States. Public libraries have lost funding for books, staff, and operating hours. Schools are seeing their libraries shuttered or significantly reduced. In schools like Stafford, where students who live in poverty are given equal access to books as their wealthy peers, cuts are being made.
If you have ever utilized a library or have family members who do, please show your support by contacting local, state, and federal politicians. Keep books in the hands of children. Let those who can’t afford to purchase every novel they read, every book needed for research, or every periodical they peruse have an equal opportunity for education. And if you are fortunate enough to have had your library spared this year, thank the ones who made that happen. School and public libraries are vital to our nation!