Ms. Peters Jensen is joined by her dog, Honker, during a Zoom story time for PreKindergarten and Kindergarten

What we learned from COVID-19

The Library Department is a busy team of five. At any time of day you will find us teaching, checking books in or out, recommending books to students or teachers, ordering new books, making a presentation at a town meeting, creating reading challenges, overseeing a club, out at recess or carpool, and so much more. We strive to provide the Colorado Academy students, teachers, and families with a place where they can find what they need and feel welcome in our community.

Middle School Librarian Allie Bronston reads to CA students via Zoom.

When COVID-19 arrived, things really turned upside down…or did they?

In March 2020, when it was decided that the school would be going fully remote, we had had a few hours to go to school and collect materials needed for three months of teaching. This was challenging for all of us. What if I forgot to get something essential? How would I fit everything needed for Pre-K through 5th Grade classes in my car and in my house? Soon, my dining room table had become the Lower School library “classroom,” and after emptying a closet in our guest room, I had a space to organize my library collection and teaching materials.

From there, library lessons came about with a lot of trial and error, creativity, and improvisation. Figuring out how to translate my in-person library curriculum and story times to video took some time. I spent Spring Break 2020 learning how to record videos on Zoom and creating how-to videos for a variety of library resources. I’ll never forget how I’d be recording lessons, when suddenly my dog decided it was time for a cuddle, or the chart paper behind me fell from the cabinet. I would ask myself, “Should I start over, or roll with it?” I learned to roll with it. Teaching from home was not perfection; it was about as real as it can get. We were all going through this unbelievable time together, and I knew that a few bloopers would bring smiles to my students. And we all needed to smile.

In addition to recorded lessons, I met with Lower School classes informally on Zoom for “check-ins.” I decided right away that check-in times were going to be about community building. Most of these meetings started with us sharing what we were reading and sharing “one good thing” that had happened that week. Over the many weeks of spring, we paraded our pets, competed in scavenger hunts, told jokes, and asked and answered some hilarious “Would you rather…?” questions. What held us together even though we were all apart? Community. Connection. The thing we most value about CA, community, was never more evident than during the time we were apart.

The Library Department, despite our physical separation, grew together as we navigated our sudden departure from school to become virtual librarians and run a library program from our homes. Phone calls and Zoom became lifelines to helping one another. We recorded bedtime stories and chapter book read-alouds for students. We adapted research lessons, showed students how to check out ebooks from the public library, and shared resources with teachers who, like us, had limited materials. We met with students in small groups and one-on-one via Zoom to support their specific research projects and questions. Like everyone else, we were scared about what was happening with the pandemic, and we were feeling anxious about teaching from home. We could rely on so little that was familiar in our day-to-day lives, but we could rely on each other. Community.

Fast forward to the fall of 2020

Finally, the library team was able to put books into the hands of students and teachers! We were able to have students in the library. Did it look the same as before? Not quite. We were juggling classes filled with in-person and remote students, Zoom, OWL cameras, the constant cleaning of tables, counters, chairs, and books, and making sure every student received hand sanitizer at the beginning of class and before checkout time. We were providing outdoor pop-up libraries, eating lunch outside (even in the cold), and doing all of these things in masks. We were happy and tired. Tired, because there was so much to adjust to, and happy, because we were back together with our school community.

The Middle School Pop-Up Library

Winter 2021

Now that we’ve been teaching in our new normal for a while, it feels good to reflect on what we’ve all been through. What have we learned? COVID-19 forced us to reimagine library services and curriculum and figure out how to offer them in a virtual space. It led to a bolder online presence for MS and US students served by Raether Library. COVID-19 inspired us to create how-to videos for 4th and 5th Graders on how to use the online databases for research. We reached out to the CA community with reading challenges and shared photos of students reading with their pets.

All of these virtual connections with the CA community were just what we needed at the time, but they could not replace the feeling of being in the libraries with students and teachers. Distance from the library spaces amplified how important they are as places to meet, learn, share, connect, and inspire. Distance from the libraries drove home the fact that we have, over the years, created library spaces that foster connections and comfort that could not be replicated by a virtual library. In the future, we will continue our virtual access and outreach and also maintain and strengthen the in-person community connections that we make in the libraries every day.

Upside down?

I don’t think that COVID-19 turned our world upside down. I think COVID-19 revealed to us what we already knew—that the Colorado Academy community is strong. And despite everything we’ve been through and the many ways we have adapted due to COVID-19, we lift each other up. We learn together.