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Showing them how to search, ask, grow

New specials class means library time 

Godfrey-Lee — Little Legends at Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center venture to art and gym class to experience new learning and play outside their classroom.

Now offered as a specials class, the school library serves as an opportunity for learning and exploring new stories with a new teacher.

Library specials teacher Susan McCaffrey, who has her master’s in library science which qualifies her as a media specialist, spends two hours a day reading and learning with first-graders and kindergartners, with the occasional dance break to get the wiggles out. 

During a recent kindergarten class visit to the library, McCaffrey tested students’ memories of how to sit on the carpet during story time.

“Criss-cross applesauce!” she yelled, and students scrambled to cross their legs.

Next, she yelled “Mermaid!” prompting little legs to untwist from their previous position and swing out to the side of their bodies like a mermaid’s tail. 

“I have to get creative with their hour block of class, especially for the kindergartners,” McCaffrey said. “It’s a long time for them to sit, but … specials are enriching and good for the soul.” 

Some days she reads stories out loud and asks her students to identify the main characters, and others she shows animated videos of books or classic nursery rhymes in both English and Spanish.

“I try to relate reading content to what they’re learning in class and support the teachers,” she said. “We read ‘Corduroy’ last week, and the kids love the pigeon book series,” — or, as one kindergartner called them, “pollo azul,” the blue chicken books.

Search, Ask, Grow

McCaffrey worked as a media specialist in East Grand Rapids Public Schools from 2005 until 2010, when the district cut back on library staff, she said. 

Until she retired in 2021, McCaffrey taught social studies and U.S. history at EGR Middle School, next door to Harry Coffill, who is now Godfrey-Lee’s district media specialist.

A few months after retiring, she missed being with students and working in a library, and applied at Godfrey Elementary. 

McCaffrey said having scheduled time for students to spend in the library shows an awareness of the importance of information literacy. 

“Kids are getting used to searching and asking questions and evaluating, while gaining a love of books,” she said. “I’m trying to expose them to as many books as possible. “

McCaffrey also said she tries to be intentional with the collection of books housed in the media center and that their collection is always developing.

“Most of our picture books have a lot of people-of-color faces in them, and we do that intentionally,” she said. “I want our kids to have a cultural knowledge of stories and help them make memories of being read to.” 

Godfrey-Lee employs a full-time certified district media specialist and two certified library media parapros, including McCaffrey. She said that’s impressive because few school districts in Michigan have a full-time media specialist, let alone a media center, in every building.

According to the Michigan Education Association, 8% of Michigan school buildings as of December 2020 were staffed with at least one full-time, certified media specialist and 51% of buildings had no library staff.

“Having a certified librarian (in a school) is a big deal,” McCaffrey said. “I’m so blown away by Godfrey-Lee’s forward thinking in prioritizing library time.”

Read more from Godfrey Lee: 
History-making superintendent comes back home to lead Godfrey-Lee
Bolstered by many while a student, this grad now supports others

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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