Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Librarian Lowdown: Donna Kouri

I am so delighted to have Donna Kouri as my guest today on The Librarian Lowdown. Donna is the library media center director at Longwood Elementary.  I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Donna at ALA Midwinter this past January.  I wish that we could have had more time to talk....she is doing amazing things!  

Hi Donna!  Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions for The Librarian Lowdown.

How long have you been a school librarian? Tell us a little about your school.

This is my fourth year as a school librarian. Prior to this position I taught fifth grade. The LMC position opened and I wasn’t sure if I should apply or not. I loved the position I was in and wasn’t looking for a library position at that point. It was always a thought for the future. Reading with my students was my passion and my sister threatened to never speak to me again if I did not at least apply. I am glad I listened to her.

Longwood Elementary is a small school of about 450 students. We serve students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. Our school is extremely diverse and that is one of the things I love about it. We are a neighborhood school so I feel very connected to the community in which I teach. It is a wonderful place to work!

What is the best part of being a school librarian?

I love getting to work with the students multiple years. It is wonderful to see them grow as readers. You get to know their likes and dislikes and I love getting to be part of their reading journey year after year. They are also part of mine and it is always a wonderful feeling sharing my passion of books with a student and having them share it back with me. Sometimes they will tell me I am crazy about books and I am OK with that.

I also teach in a town with a wonderful independent bookstore. We do our book fair with them and, in return, are afforded the opportunity to have authors visit our school. It is exciting to see students interact with these authors. They feel they are superheroes. (Which they are). We have been fortunate enough to host Richard Peck, Loren Long, Jon Scieszka, Tom Angleberger, Kate DiCamillo, Thanhha Lai, and many others. Author visit days are always high excitement and the passion that grows from learning in depth about that author does not dissipate once the visit is over.

Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnet author visit.

Can you tell us about something new that is happening in your library this year?

This year we held our first One Book One School event. We chose The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. Each family received a copy of this book to add to their household library. We provided both English and Spanish copies of this book so that it truly became a family centered event in which all could participate. We had weekly activities that connected to the book and had a family night at the end where families came together to celebrate.

I also wrote a grant for a Little Free Library. We will be installing it in the near future. Students helped choose how it should be decorated and are anxious for it to be installed. We are so lucky that author Miriam Busch and illustrator Larry Day will be visiting our school that day and will participate in our unveiling ceremony.  Our Little Free Library will offer books in English and Spanish and I am happy that students will have yet another way to obtain books and build their home libraries.

The kickoff for the One Book One School program.
This is how the book was announced!

I’ve been so impressed with your summer library program. Could you tell us about it?

This will be the third year of our summer library program. We are a Title One school and use those funds to run our program. We are open Monday mornings as a drop in program. Every session features a special theme. In the past we have had story tellers come and have also had a multi-cultural music group come perform for students. One day we read Balloons Over Broadway and then made puppets while another day we read mustache themed books and made mustaches on sticks that we had fun wearing. Every session is something different. This year will feature reptiles from a local wildlife agency, a magician, a multi-cultural puppet show, and a science day. I highlight books that relate to each theme so students can learn more if they want to. Students who come to a set amount of sessions also earn a field trip to our local book store. We rent a bus and students come with their parents and get to go choose books to take home. This is always the highlight of the summer! They are thrilled that they get to keep the books and think very carefully about which books they choose. Another benefit of this program is that they often bring their younger siblings to our weekly program. It thrills me that their younger siblings become familiar with our library before they are even students here.

Another benefit of our summer program is that many of our students live in an unincorporated area of town. This means that they do not pay library taxes so their family has to pay a yearly fee in order to use the public library. Our summer library program insures that all of our students have the opportunity to have books in their hands over the summer, even if they do not use the public library. That is my main goal – to get books in the hands of students.

Students at the summer library program.

What are your future goals for your library program?

I would like to transform our space to a modern, kid friendly space. Our LMC is small and somewhat traditional. I look forward to continuing to create a library that is an enjoyable and usable space where students want to come work and can work effectively. I want the LMC to be a destination, a place where students want to go hang out as opposed to a space they go to check out books.

Donna with Kate DiCamillo

and the final question...

If you could have dinner with a book character (or a couple), who would you choose and why?

How specific can I get? I always love the party at the end of Because of Winn Dixie. I would love to be transported to that party and to celebrate with India Opal, Gloria Dump, Otis, and the others. I love that people who think they are so different come together and realize the power of community and the value of everyone. I would love to be a part of that celebration. 

Thank you, Donna, for sharing the awesome things that are happening in your library!

You can continue to follow Donna on Twitter:  @akgal68