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BCPS celebrates National School Library Month

Meet Suhaila Tenly, library media specialist, Hereford High School

Meet Jeffrey Darchicourt, library media specialist, Holabird Middle School
photo by teacher Geoff Grace

When she was growing up in Harford County, Suhaila Tenly viewed the local public library as a haven. “I loved being surrounded by books,” says Tenly. “I loved having them so close to me.”

Her love of libraries continued at Towson University, where she earned her undergraduate degree. “I thought the librarians at Cook Library were magical,” she says. “They would ask the right questions and pull the right resources. They were the people who knew everything, who knew where to find the answers to every question. That’s what I want to be. I want to know the answers.”

It helps that Tenly is, as she describes herself, “endlessly fascinated by everything.”

Listening to Tenly’s story, it seems destined that she would become a library media specialist, but her path had a few twists and turns.

Tenly began her undergraduate studies as a pre-law major, but she so enjoyed an elective class in British literature that she knew she had to take more literature classes. She switched her major to English and creative writing, with the thought that she might eventually teach and write on the side.

After graduating, she taught for a year at a parochial school and planned to move out of state to pursue a master’s degree in poetry. Life intervened, and she found herself staying in Maryland because of illness in her family. Her next step was earning her teaching certification at Notre Dame. That led to a long term substitute teaching position at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts which quickly led to a permanent teaching post.

In all she spent 10 years teaching English at Patapsco and George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology.

Then it was time for something different.

“I wanted to affect change on a larger scale,” Tenly says. “As a library media specialist, I see all of the students in the building. I can work with teachers of every subject.”

Tenly first became a library media specialist at Franklin High School for two years before moving to Hereford High in fall 2017.

Although she has been at Hereford for less than a full school year, Tenly is very excited about the changes made and changes coming to the school library.

“We are transforming the library,” Tenly says. “I have a great partner in my principal. Phase one is cutting down the collection a little bit, making the library future ready by creating more spaces that facilitate collaboration and interaction. We have ordered new café tables and chairs, and we will be moving out the old desktop computers. Ultimately we will be adding more tables where students can sit together and project on a screen, creating a makerspace with 3D printers, and hopefully one day getting a new circulation desk.”

Tenly says she can already see the impact of the changes. “You can see it in the way that students move around and use the space.”

Meet Jeffrey Darchicourt, library media specialist, Holabird Middle School
photo by Grade 12 student Flannery Supplee

Another Tenly project is rearranging all fiction by genre instead of simply shelving the books alphabetically. “It will help the students find more books similar to those they know they like.”

What the library looks like and how it is organized and functions are essential to Tenly because she sees the school library “as a point of connection.”

“It‘s all about connections,” Tenly says, “connecting people to resources, technology, data, and each other, connecting the right resource to the right lesson. Part of my work is reflecting on what teachers need, what will elevate their lessons.”

“At first,” Tenly says, “I missed teaching. I missed having my own set of students to work with every day. The relationships I could have with them were different than the relationships I have with students now.”

But, Tenly has found distinct benefits to working as a library media specialist, including great partnerships with Baltimore County Public Library and other library media specialists in BCPS.

In addition, she notes, “I get to dive deep into instructional projects and provide a new level of support. The lessons I create now with other teachers are more rigorous and meaningful than the lessons I would do by myself.”

Tenly also is excited to be working as a library media specialist in a school system that places such high priority on literacy and at a school that does the same.

“Literacy and libraries are one and the same,” Tenly says. “I believe in reading and knowing how to read, nurturing the skill and art of reading.”

Hereford High, she notes, had a reading program across all subject areas even before she arrived there.

This year, the schoolwide literacy push included giving students passages to read and a set of questions to keep in mind as they read and then assessing their comprehension. Next year, the school plans to focus on helping students improve their writing skills, especially in forming arguments and how to evidence their claims.

While Tenly and her students and the teachers she works with enjoy the benefits of technology as a tool, Tenly notes that students remain enamored with books.

“E-books are wonderful because some of them are unlimited, meaning that there is no limit to the number of students who can access them,” Tenly says. “Students also benefit from the interactive features of e-books. For students who are auditory learners, it is great that they can chose to listen to the book.”

But for most students that doesn’t replace, Tenly says, “the tactile experience of working with a physical book.”
“Holding a book,” she notes, “is a connective experience. One student sees another student with a book, and it starts conversations.”

While Tenly spends her days surrounded by physical books, however, in her life outside of school, she generally is listening to two audiobooks at a time and reading at least two or three on her e-reader.

Her time is pretty limited. “My work doesn’t end at the end of the school day,” she notes. “Hereford’s library is a physical place but also a virtual library that I manage 24 -7. Beyond that, I am constantly thinking about what else I can do. Just like teachers stay up thinking about particular students and lessons and what else they can do to break through. I am a teacher, too. I think of myself as a teacher first and also as an instructional partner, a leader, and an advocate.”

Keeping up with her reading via audio and e-books fits in among Tenly’s other responsibilities – the two young children, ages 1 and 5, that she is raising with her husband, her work toward a second master’s degree (this one in instructional technology and administrator 1 certification), daily poetry writing, and a gratitude journal.

Through it all, she remains endlessly interested in everything around her. One object of her fascination right now: supporting her 5-year-old as he becomes a reader. ”I don’t know how primary teachers do it,” she says. “It’s amazing how kids learn their letters and put them together to form words and phrases. The associations they make in their little world is so fascinating. It is poetic!”

Top photo by teacher Geoff Grace and bottom photo by Grade 12 student Flannery Supplee.

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