Deborah Allen

Choosing to remember

Last fall, as a new member of the community, I responded to a request for Key Pen News volunteer columnists.

Initially I ignored the offer, but after a frustrating day at school and a long walk on the beach, I submitted my application. I did have something to write about, something to say, but did anyone care to listen?

Well, either very few people applied, or my topic was unique enough that I was accepted.

Last month, Scott Turner (editor) contacted me again. Why, exactly, was I writing? What was it that I really wanted to say?

He said to “read between the lines.” What truly interests readers, he said, is what is happening to them, now.

Although what I will share with you is not happening on the Key Peninsula (I work in a small rural school district in another county), it is happening across the United States, and it is affecting all of us every day.

As school districts continue to have funding decreased while academic expectations are increased, administrators face the task of how to balance increasingly meager budgets. This in a time of needed technology purchases for staff and students, as well as an exploding population of special-needs students.

Where to cut the budget? P.E. and sports programs were targeted a few years ago, but with the epidemic of childhood obesity, that is no longer the acceptable thing to do.

A prime target, usually the first, is the school library. Why do students need books when they can use computers and eReaders?

Hey, nothing against eReaders, all three of my children have one, as do I, but we all agree they are for convenience and are not the same as a book –– but that is for another column.

Why fund the library at all? My district has not provided me with the funds to purchase new books for my students in five years. New books (more than 3,000) have been purchased with donations and fundraising.

As I said, my district is small, a K-8 district of two schools with two libraries. I am the only librarian, and I have had two assistants, one in each library. I spend the morning in one building and the afternoon in the other. My “commute” is a two-minute walk.

With my two highly-skilled assistants, we were able to keep both libraries open and available to staff and students all day long, which is as it should be at a school.

Then new administrators arrived, and locked the doors of the middle school library four mornings a week to save money by reassigning my secretary to work as a preschool assistant.

This made it difficult for our history teacher, Dr. Scott Dakers, who had undertaken an amazing journey with our seventh-grade students. He chose to teach about the Holocaust in a very unique way.

Dakers taught, through literature, non-fiction texts and first-person accounts, how the world had tolerated evil. He allowed our students to see that tolerating something, putting up with something that you don’t like, was never meant for people.

We all know that one can tolerate something for only so long –– Dachau, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen are proof of that.

Dakers teamed with English teacher Ruth H., and together they taught these children to write expository text, and inspired them to care about what they wrote.

And care indeed. The children prepared a presentation for the community, to share their learning, and to introduce a special guest. Her name is Elane Geller, a child survivor of the Holocaust.

“Choosing to Remember” is the book of extraordinary essays written by our students, and dedicated to Ms. Geller. It is filled with essays that were nurtured by their readings in the library; essays that were informed by their research in the library.

Deborah Allen is a teacher-librarian, and she enjoys reading to children all the time.

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