PLEASANT PLAINS — Connecting with students is one of the main tasks for a school librarian, but Midland High School Library Media Specialist Karen Wells goes one step further by taking an active role in connecting her students with the world abroad.
Wells was given the 2014 Outstanding Media Program Award from the Arkansas Association of Instructional Media for implementing several programs aimed at encouraging students to look at how interactive and interconnected the world is today.
“Geo-literacy is my new passion,” Wells said. “It’s a push to make sure the kids know how interconnected we are throughout the world.”
Since 2009, Wells has been helping students travel around the world by bringing them on Discovery Student Adventures. Every other year, Wells and a group of students travel internationally to participate in sightseeing, volunteering and learning opportunities.
Wells participated in a Discovery Student Adventures pilot trip in 2009. She said she kept putting off the application, not sure if she wanted to register, and decided the night before the application was due to turn in her material.
There were three possible trips that year: one to Australia, one to South Africa and one to China. Wells said she put South Africa down as her third choice, unsure of what the trip would entail and if parents would allow their students to go to South Africa.
Over spring break that year, Wells was notified that she and four students would be traveling to South Africa for 18 days that summer.
“I’ve been here since 1978, so I’ve had a lot of my students’ parents in school,” she said, emphasizing her uncertainty about being able to take students to South Africa. “But we had 17 kids who expressed an interested and did interviews. An outside committee chose four.”
Those four students and Wells went to South Africa, and Wells said she saw the difference it made in the students’ lives.
“I could see what it meant to my kids,” she said. “We planned out for the next four or five years where we wanted to try to take our kids.”
So far, students from Midland High School have been to South Africa, Greece and Italy. A group of nine students will travel this summer to Spain and France.
Another geo-literacy program Wells has implemented this year is Midland Reads Across North America, in which students read a book from each of the 50 states and some Canadian provinces.
Midland Reads Across North America was actually a suggestion from a student, and Wells said it is encouraging when students at the beginning of the year come up with ideas for literacy programs.
A third program focuses on enhancing literacy through family involvement.
“Our social-studies classes, our economics classes, our art classes and family-living classes are reading set novels in their classrooms, and then we invite parents and grandparents in to have discussions,” she said. “They bring a different perspective.”
All of the books are set in Arkansas, and they include fiction and nonfiction.
One book read for the family involvement program was Camp Nine, a novel about Japanese internment camps in Arkansas during World War II. Wells said some of the
conversations stemming from that book were eye-opening and insightful. Some adults did not know about Arkansas’ two internment camps, and classes have delved into the history behind the camps.
“When the whole school is focused on one thing, a lot of learning is taking place,” Wells said.
Wells said the Outstanding Media Program Award is a testament to the hardworking students and supportive community around the Midland schools.
“It brings recognition to our students and to what small schools are doing all over the state,” she said.
Wells also teaches an Advanced Placement class and publishes the school’s yearbook. When Wells is not in the library, library aide Kathy Sharp keeps things on track. Sharp said Wells has been a wonderful asset to the school and has done a lot to educate the students.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.