This article was originally published on December 2, 2014 in the Mountain Xpress
The first thing you may notice about the media center at Claxton Elementary is the way your footsteps echo. The ceilings are tall, the carpet is faded, voices are hushed and, compared to the brightly lit hallways lined with bulletin boards and art projects, the mood is surprisingly somber.
“The space hasn’t evolved into that 21st-century learning space that the kids and the community really need,” says Jamie Allbach, Claxton’s media coordinator. “It’s very rigid. It has so much potential, but it’s just not where it could be.”
Allbach has worked at Claxton for over a year now, but, to her knowledge, the media center’s appearance has remained largely unchanged for the past 27 years. The technology has been updated, but the colors, the furniture, and the general feeling reflect a quiet study room at a university more than a space for elementary students.
“It was very much the old-school idea that you come into the library and you have to be very quiet and sit in your own little stall,” Allbach says of the media center’s design. “But the future workforce is going to be very collaborative and very high-technology, and we want this space to reflect that.”
Claxton is launching a remodel of the media center this year, including new paint, new carpet, new furniture, a new layout and new technology. While grants and general funding will help to cover the more expensive elements (including new tablets and computers), Allbach says the school is hoping that funds raised from the sale of Go Local cards will be able to supplement the new carpet and furniture.
“Of course, Go Local can’t cover everything we need to do here,” Allbach says. “But we will be dedicating all those funds to transforming this space, and I hope it will take care of a piece of this thing that we really need.”
The redesign will include lighter, more portable furniture to encourage the students to move their tables and chairs around and work together. The former computer stalls, which Allbach says isolated the students from one another, will be replaced with a “research station” where students can freely discuss what they see on their monitors and tablets. The books will be moved to portable shelves that will allow Allbach and other teachers to easily transport whole sections of the library up to the student’s classrooms. Comfortable furniture will be nestled around the shelves to encourage leisure reading, and a small loft space — designed to look like a tree house — will be added for book clubs to gather or for individual students to meet with their reading tutors.
Allbach adds that the new design will also include a work station where teachers will meet to learn more about the technology offered in the media center. “It used to be that the librarian was all about shelving books and ssh-ing students,” she says. “But my role is to support the teachers by creating lessons that use the technology and resources we have here, which the teachers may not have the time to explore. My job is to cultivate knowledge of where that technology should apply in the curriculum.”
The students at Claxton will have their say in the design of the new media center as well. Allbach adds that she went through “several rounds” of color selection, with student oversight, before they reached a collective decision to go with the bright oranges, greens and purples that will soon be found on the carpet, the walls and the furniture.
“We hope to see the media center transform into a space where all of the students at Claxton and all of the families in the community can visit to create and connect,” Allbach says. “We want it to be a space that really inspires learning for everyone.”