Advertisement. Click on the ad for more information.
Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Middle Kingdom: Denver, Colorado

The books that most delight mid­dle school and junior high read­ers often strad­dle a “Mid­dle King­dom” rang­ing from upper mid­dle grade to YA. Each month, Bookol­o­gy colum­nist Lisa Bullard will vis­it the Mid­dle King­dom by view­ing it through the eyes of a teacher or librar­i­an. Bookol­o­gy is delight­ed to cel­e­brate the work of these edu­ca­tors who have built vital book encamp­ments in the tran­si­tion­al ter­ri­to­ry of ear­ly ado­les­cence.

This month we’re vis­it­ing Den­ver Acad­e­my in Den­ver, Col­orado, where Lisa talks with librar­i­an Jolene Gutiér­rez.

Lisa: What are three to five things our blog read­ers should know about your com­mu­ni­ty, school, or library/media cen­ter?

Jolene GutierrezJolene: I’m the librar­i­an at Den­ver Acad­e­my, a school for diverse learn­ers from ele­men­tary through high school.

  • Our school is locat­ed on 22 acres and we use the cam­pus as a learn­ing tool, from study­ing wildlife in our small pond to work­ing out math prob­lems in chalk on our side­walks.
  • Our cam­pus start­ed as a tuber­cu­lo­sis hos­pi­tal in the ear­ly 1900s, so we have some beau­ti­ful his­toric build­ings, includ­ing the Chapel where my main library is housed (I also run a small High School Media Cen­ter in anoth­er build­ing). The Chapel is 90 years old this year and is des­ig­nat­ed as an his­toric land­mark in the city of Den­ver. We’re work­ing on a grant appli­ca­tion that will help us to pre­serve and restore cer­tain parts of the build­ing, includ­ing the cop­per cupo­la and the zinc-camed win­dows. I’ve done a lot of research over the past few years and have pulled that infor­ma­tion togeth­er into a web­site that my stu­dents use to cre­ate pre­sen­ta­tions and tours of the Chapel for their par­ents.

Denver Academy Chapel

  • Our school is com­prised of diverse learn­ers, which can mean lots of things. Some of our stu­dents are diag­nosed with things like dyslex­ia or ADHD, and some have no diag­noses but do bet­ter with small­er class sizes. Either way, many of our stu­dents have strug­gled before com­ing to Den­ver Acad­e­my, and I think that their strug­gles and some of the pain they’ve expe­ri­enced make them some of the most com­pas­sion­ate, respect­ful kids I’ve ever met. There’s very lit­tle bul­ly­ing on our cam­pus because most of the stu­dents know the pain of being bul­lied or feel­ing “less than,” and they don’t want oth­ers to feel that way.
  • Our stu­dents are some of the most cre­ative peo­ple I’ve ever met. All of our stu­dents are bril­liant, and that bril­liance includes phe­nom­e­nal artists, gift­ed musi­cians, cre­ative writ­ers, and won­der­ful actors. Many of our alum­ni have gone on to make a liv­ing as actors, sculp­tors, and musi­cians.
  • Some peo­ple say our library and oth­er parts of our cam­pus are haunt­ed. A group of our teach­ers lead a “Haunt­ed Den­ver” class each year, and the ambiance of our Chapel library cou­pled with those ghost tales have inspired many stu­dent movies and sto­ries.

Denver Academy

Lisa: What recent changes or new ele­ments are affect­ing the work you do with stu­dents?

Jolene: I start­ed work­ing in my library over 20 years ago when we weren’t auto­mat­ed and I was writ­ing out over­due notices by hand. The tech­no­log­i­cal changes in the last 20 years have trans­formed both the way I man­age my library and the skills my stu­dents need to have when they grad­u­ate from our school. I do my best to keep up with teach­ing them what they need to know today as well as giv­ing them the crit­i­cal think­ing skills they’ll need in the future (because I have no idea where we’ll be in anoth­er 20 years)!

Lisa: What five books (or series) are checked out most often by your mid­dle school stu­dents?

Jolene: Dystopi­an fic­tion (espe­cial­ly that which has been made into movies like The Hunger Games, The Maze Run­ner, and The 5th Wave) has been very pop­u­lar this year, as have books by authors who’ve vis­it­ed our school recent­ly, includ­ing Avi’s Old Wolf and Bob­bie Pyron’s books Lucky Strike and The Dogs of Win­ter. And I know that’s six books, but I became a librar­i­an because I like words bet­ter than num­bers.

Denver Academy is reading

Lisa: What book(s) do you per­son­al­ly love to place into mid­dle school stu­dents’ hands?

Jolene: No spe­cif­ic titles; just the right book for each kid, includ­ing books that stu­dents love because they make the task of read­ing a lit­tle eas­i­er to tack­le:

  • Graph­ic nov­els are great for kids who have a tough time visu­al­iz­ing as they read because the pic­tures are pre-sup­plied. I also sug­gest graph­ic nov­els for the stu­dents who always ask for the nov­el­iza­tions of movies or books that movies are based on—these stu­dents may have issues with visu­al­iz­ing and pic­tur­ing things and might want to read about some­thing that they’ve seen visu­al­ly, like a movie. Movies are Cliff­s­Notes for kids who strug­gle with visu­al­iza­tion, and they often want to read some­thing they’ve already seen because they now have the images that go with the sto­ry.
  • Choose Your Own Adven­ture and sim­i­lar books are won­der­ful for reluc­tant read­ers because they get to feel like they’re cheat­ing at read­ing (so are graph­ic nov­els and non­fic­tion books with lots of pho­tos). Now that there are so many CYOA-ish book series out there, stu­dents can find both non­fic­tion and fic­tion books, and when I show stu­dents that they can skip around and not real­ly read the entire book, they get real­ly excit­ed and a lot of them actu­al­ly end up read­ing most of the book because they try to get a pos­i­tive end­ing to their sto­ry.
  • Series books give anx­ious stu­dents the answer to “What do I read next?” and help them to grow as a read­er as they work their way through each book in the series.
  • Audio books and/or large print books allow stu­dents who strug­gle with print oth­er options for access­ing books. If stu­dents have a learn­ing dif­fer­ence, they can work on grow­ing their read­ing and com­pre­hen­sion skills in a less intim­i­dat­ing man­ner with these resources.

Lisa: If you had a new staffer start­ing tomor­row, what piece of advice would you be sure to give them?

Jolene: Some of our stu­dents don’t love books or read­ing, and that’s okay. We’re here to help them at least learn to like libraries and trust librar­i­ans. Teach­ing stu­dents to access libraries teach­es them a life skill. And once stu­dents begin to trust you, they may become more open to explor­ing books with you. There’s noth­ing more ful­fill­ing than find­ing the right book for a reluc­tant read­er. Often­times, there is that one mag­i­cal book that will unlock the world of read­ing for kids, and that is one of the most reward­ing parts of being a librar­i­an. If you can find that per­fect book, you can help change a life for­ev­er.

Denver Academy

Lisa: What do you want your stu­dents to remem­ber about your library in ten years?

Jolene: I want them to remem­ber the mag­ic of this space and the fun we’ve had here! I hope our library teach­es stu­dents the joy of learn­ing and books. I want our library to pro­vide some warm fuzzy mem­o­ries for stu­dents once they’re grown, and I hope my stu­dents’ good mem­o­ries of their library will cause them to be life­long library users.

2 Responses to Middle Kingdom: Denver, Colorado

  1. Catherine Urdahl February 17, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    Great inter­view! I love the sen­si­tiv­i­ty toward stu­dents who don’t love books and read­ing, as well as the sug­ges­tion of graph­ic nov­els for stu­dents who ask for the nov­el­iza­tions of movies or the books upon which movies are based. Thanks, Jolene and Lisa!

    • Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez February 20, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

      Thanks so much for your com­ment and for tak­ing the time to read the inter­view, Cather­ine! 🙂

Leave a Reply to Catherine Urdahl Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: