School Librarian Rae Anne Locke: Cultivating Her Garden

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The best school librarians cultivate their students the way an expert gardener would tend to the most delicate plants.

Rae Anne Locke is just such a gardener, according to Melissa Augeri, who nominated Locke for a 2012 Carnegie Corporation of New York/New York Times I Love My Librarian Award, which Locke recently received in a ceremony in New York City.

Augeri wrote that Locke, librarian at the Saugatuck Elementary “Secret Garden” Library in Westport, Conn., "has poured her heart and soul into planning, creating and growing the SES Secret Garden Library, a vibrant, warm and inviting place that is much more than a school library. It is truly the learning hub for our entire school community."

The library has an "open door policy" that allows students from all grade levels to visit the library apart from their regularly scheduled time to do research or pick out books for non-required reading.

Locke's welcoming spirit pervades the room.

One fifth grade student, said, “I wouldn't trust anyone else to help me when I need books or a website. I love her so much. She isn't your regular SHHHH! librarian. She listens and doesn't even mind if you talk.”

This library, with its collection of more than 20,000 titles, is where it's at for Saugatuck students, due to Locke's ability to "grow" her students - fitting each child to the right book, while also enhancing the lessons in the classroom.

In addition to working with students and teachers, she has recruited and trained hundreds of parent volunteers in the 10 years she has been at the school.

Some examples of her collaborative creativity include working with the second grade on The Kids Guide to Westport, a magazine produced by second graders as part of their study of various communities for their social studies unit. As part of the process, students interviewed town leaders and worked with graphic design students from Westport's Staples High School.

In another project, this time for fifth graders, students produced digital book trailers, writing book reviews and then expanding them into scripts. Following direct instruction from Locke, they selected their own visuals and music, they storyboarded their project and then used PhotoStory3 to insert visuals, including ones they had created themselves.

“Rae Anne put in a lot of work into the digital book project. It was beyond what she needed to do,” said fifth grade teacher, Kristin Gerner. “With the help of Rae Anne, they turned out fantastic and through her individual work with each student, every student achieved success.”

Locke also teaches her students to reach out to the community. She is the creator and leader of the SES Caring Council, a student committee that works to benefit local, charitable organizations and current causes. The council identifies organizations and neighboring schools that need support. Its initiatives have included coat drives, toy drives, school supply donations, book drives, animal humanity, costume donations and recycling education.

She also helped launch the first SES Walk-a-Thon to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina, an effort that led to further initiatives to raise money for the victims of the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan and the Tsunami. And she works closely with the Save the Children organization that helps communities rebuild in the wake of disasters.

If Locke is widely appreciated, she returns that feeling of appreciation.

"It's the most amazing thing ever," Locke said about her award. "It's a wonderful feeling. I feel like we're celebrating libraries in general, and I feel like it's an honor to be among the other recipients."

Read Rae Anne Locke's full nomination and learn more about all the 2012 I Love My Librarian Award winners.

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