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SPS United: Meet Michelle Cheeney, librarian at Pipkin Middle School

April 2, 2024


"To be honest with you, growing up, I thought libraries were intimidating. I didn’t understand how to use them, and because I was a terrible reader, I thought they were terrifying. I went through school struggling to comprehend what I was reading. It wasn’t until high school that I was identified as having a reading disability. These experiences shaped me. It took me a long time to learn to love reading. I think that’s why I am determined to find those reluctant readers and help open up the world of literacy to them. 

Learning and innovation have taken on a different look in our library as I incorporate more lessons of inquiry and discovery. For instance, a few months ago, our library looked like a crime scene from the game Clue. Our students analyzed eyewitness accounts, searched virtual locations for clues using VR goggles, inspected fingerprints and mystery objects using magnifying glasses, read through suspect statements, and combed through numerous clues and red herrings to solve the mystery. This was such a fun way to incorporate reading, writing, and deductive reasoning into our library time.

On another occasion, I challenged students to study the style and technique of poetry written by Mohammed Ali. After studying several of his poems, our students competed in a Poetry Slam, where they created works similar to Ali’s using random words drawn from a hat. The students performed their poems with lots of emotion and theatrics in order to win the title of Best Poetry Slammer. I loved to watch their creativity unfold in such a fun way.

Literacy is one of the most important skills a student can learn in school. It is the foundation for learning all other subjects and attaining life skills. Learning to read and write effectively is fundamental to becoming a critical thinker. Students who read strengthen their brain function and cognitive ability, as well as enrich their communication skills. Empowering our students to build their reading skills is absolutely a passion of mine, especially because it was my biggest struggle and the place where I felt most inferior.

I have a saying in our library that “Books are Treasure.” Not only are books an escape for some readers, entertainment for others, and for some strictly informational, but at the very core, books help us to see through the lens of another person. They teach us empathy in a world that really needs empathy right now. I could go on and on about the importance and power of being a reader.

There are many studies that show why it is important to be a reader; readers make 30 percent more money on average, they are more successful, they have a greater sense of confidence. I absolutely want all of these things for our kids! But mostly, I want them to see others with empathy and treat people with kindness. This happens when we emotionally connect with characters. This happens with the power of a story."