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Librarian brings the world to students at Sacred Heart Elementary, Kingston

By Donis Tracy Pilot Correspondent
Posted: 2/5/2016

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Students at Sacred Heart Elementary School in Kingston take part in an activity during the The Book Buzz book club run by librarian Carrie Mathias. Pilot photo/courtesy Sacred Heart Elementary School

KINGSTON -- Carrie Mathias is not our typical school librarian.

As the librarian at Sacred Heart Elementary School in Kingston, she does much more than shelf books.

Her level of activity is shown in the fact that she never fully stopped even to conduct her phone interview, which is punctuated with occasional side comments to students. "Yes, that is a big dinosaur," she commented to a first-grader.

"Oooh, do you want to check that book out?" to another.

"Library is a place. But digital literacy is what we do," she explained. "I teach the children how to find, filter and apply information, how to conduct online research, and I incorporate a lot of literature in the process."

In addition to the "traditional" tasks performed by a school librarian, Mathias tries to "bring to life" the stories she reads to the children.

"I think it's important for kids of all kinds to be exposed to all types of literature to open their imaginations," she said.

Every week, Mathias has a "Book of the Week" -- a picture book she reads aloud to every class.

She calls the Book of the Week "a great bonding experience" for the students.

"I have seen that the younger kids talk more easily to the older ones because they now have something in common," she explained. "Besides, I don't think you ever outgrow picture books. It's just that you begin to look at them differently."

In addition, each grade is assigned a project. Mathias cites a few examples -- this semester, 5th graders will be holding "Fairy Tale trials" -- with Mathias as the presiding judge. They will have to learn how the legal system works -- how to argue a case, select jurors, call witnesses. Fourth graders will be creating avatars of their favorite fictional characters and creating a stop-motion film. Kindergarteners will be creating puppets of Mother Goose characters.

"I like to be as creative as possible," she said.

Whenever possible, Mathias uses the computers and iPads in the adjoining resource room to further enhance the story.

"Being able to hop inside stories and bring the kids with me is just great," she explained. "With the technical aspect, we can continue to develop a relationship with our storybook friends in all kinds of ways -- by studying their places, or their time periods, or by looking into what they do."

"I always tell my students that this class is the best class because it will help you no matter what you choose to do in life," she continued. "Technology is everywhere, and I don't think you can be literate in this world unless you include all aspects of literacy, including computer literacy."

However, Mathias doesn't just limit herself engaging students in the virtual or imaginary realm, but her projects urge them to create in the material world, as well.

She has created a "Wisdom Wall," a hands-on project that challenges students to conceptualize, engineer and build. This month's project is a "snowball catapult." Using sticks, students build a catapult and shoot pom-poms into various targets throughout the library.

"There's always something different," she said. "And the students are very good about cleaning up after themselves. They know that when they got here it was cleaned up, so they give that same respect to the next class."

Mathias also has created a Lego Wall -- an area where students can form Lego creations and put them on display.

"I always try to do something new here," she said. "I try to keep it engaging."

After school, Mathias has begun a "Book Buzz," a book club for fourth and fifth graders. In addition to reading a book and discussing it, she also brings in speakers related to the books. She explained that in the current book under discussion, a character has a service dog, so Mathias has invited a person with a service animal to speak to the students about it.

"I have the best job in the world," she said.

In addition to being an educator at Sacred Heart, Mathias is also a former student, attending Sacred Heart until the 7th grade. She is also the parent of a preschooler at the school.

"I have such fond memories of coming to this school," she said. "What the Sisters (of Divine Providence) have done here is something unique and special."

"This is my school. I love, love, love Sacred Heart," she said.