Media centers showcase 'exemplary' programs

LAWRENCEVILLE - Don't expect to hear someone saying, "Shush," in either of these libraries.

The media centers at Mill Creek and North Gwinnett are the hubs of the high schools, places where students can go to collaborate on an assignment, research a project or just relax.

"This isn't the traditional library where you come inside and people are telling you 'shhh' all the time," said Jim Stewart, a media specialist at North Gwinnett High.

Likewise, Julie Hatcher, a media specialist at Mill Creek High, describes the area as "loud."

"And that's a good thing," she said, adding the media center is also "open, inviting and crowded. ... The students are more comfortable in here than in the commons (area)."

Both schools opened their doors Friday and invited educators from throughout state to learn about their media centers, named by the Georgia Department of Education as "Exemplary Media Centers" in 2008. The two Gwinnett schools tied for the honor at the high school level. Meadowcreek Elementary also earned the accolade.

The three schools were selected for the award because they excelled in the following categories: student achievement and instruction, staffing, facilities, access and resources, administrative support, staff development and technology integration.

"(Gwinnett County Public Schools) media centers are the largest classrooms in the schools," said Faye Curlee, director of media services and technology training. "Media specialists plan and collaborate with teachers to identify, select and provide the best resources and activities to support student achievement. Students and teachers who become proficient in locating, evaluating, organizing and presenting information become effective users of information throughout their years of school and on into adulthood."

Mill Creek High's media center has the largest collection in the county - 20,000 books, Hatcher said. When the school opened five years ago, it had 7,000 books.

To cater to the school's population of 4,200 students, the media center purchases materials based on recommendations from students, media specialist Mary Kay Donovan said.

"The goal of our media center is (to be) student centered," Donovan said.

Donovan and Hatcher said they stay up to date on what teens like to read. In fact, they said they prefer the young adult genre.

At North Gwinnett, technology plays a key role in many of the media center's programs.

One program allows students to become certified mentors to help their peers stay safe online and avoid sexual predators and cyberbullying, Stewart said.

The school also offers a library sciences course, limited to two students each period, Stewart said. During the class, the students work in the media center, but they also take an online class.

Carla Youmans, a North Gwinnett media specialist, said the job requires Stewart and her to be collaborators, instructional coaches, information gatherers and technology helpers.

"We do a little bit of it all," she said.