The term school media center may conjure up an image of a place where students go to check out a book or work on a research paper and a librarian halting any noise by putting one finger to her lips and whispering, “Shush!”
Anyone who still has those images has never been to Chestatee High School.
The center is filled with bustling activity with 75 to 100 students during each class period, working in groups at tables and at computers. Jennifer Gibson, the media specialist, moves from table to table, checking on the students and offering help. It’s even busy during lunch when students bring food into the center to get a little more work done on a project or to hear speakers talk about career opportunities.
“It is completely the opposite of shush,” said Chestatee Principal Suzanne Jarrard. “In fact, the library would not necessarily be where you would go to find a quiet place. For the most part it’s lively.”
And that’s just fine with Gibson, who made the move from English teacher to media specialist just two years ago.
“To me this is where we have moved,” Gibson said. “This place, in my mind, is the hub of the school. It’s the biggest classroom we have, and we have resources here that we may not have in a regular classroom. If they’re needing to do group work or they’re needing to be spread out or they’re needing to be louder and more mobile, this is actually where they come. It really isn’t quiet.
“I feel sometimes like I am committing the ultimate sin by letting them have food in here, but they can come in here and eat and they can do group work,” she added. “Seeing 90-something high school students in a library voluntarily — they’re not being drug in here — it’s pretty cool.”
Gibson was recently named Media Specialist of the Year for the North Georgia district by the Georgia Library Media Association and the Georgia Association of Instructional Technology. She and the eight other district winners are finalists for the state award, to be named next month.
A graduate of Johnson High in South Hall, Gibson was a student teacher at Chestatee while working on her undergraduate degree at the University of Georgia. She was hired after graduation and soon became chair of the English department. She said she applied for the media specialist job when it opened up in 2015 even though it required additional certification out of a “desire for something different.”
“My role is very unique because I have a chance to make an impact on every student’s learning, on every student’s growth, but the same thing with every single teacher,” she said. “That’s the only position in the school where you really do have a chance to work with everyone. It really pulls in a lot of what I’m passionate about — literacy and supporting students and giving them opportunities. It’s a good place to be.”
Gibson said she is proud of the Lunch and Learn program in which students hear speakers talk about different career opportunities once a month during lunch. Speakers this year have included representatives from the University of North Georgia ROTC, culinary arts, music production, firefighters and emergency responders and a variety of other businesses and industries. There was even someone from the Georgia Student Finance Commission talking to students about applying for financial aid for college. She also oversees the student advisement program that is growing to offer students more experience to help them as they decide what they want to do with their lives.
“I think a lot of it ties back to opportunity, making our kids aware of what they have and what they can do when they get out of high school,” she said. “The biggest thing that sets us apart is just making all these opportunities available for our kids that they may not get in regular curriculum.”
Despite leaving the formal classroom setting, Gibson has continued to get teaching time through opportunities in the media center and co-teaching in classrooms in a variety of subject areas.
“She’s just fully engaged in the classroom even though she’s not a part of our classroom, she tangibly links herself,” said Natalie White, who attended Johnson High and UGA with Gibson and also teaches at Chestatee. “She’s very accessible. She still has enough of her foot in the door that she still remembers what it feels like. She knows our struggles and identifies with us who have a heavy workload.”
Teachers at Chestatee apparently appreciate Gibson’s gifts as a teacher, naming her Teacher of the Year twice, once as an English teacher and this year as media specialist. Jarrard said she actually had to check to make sure a media center specialist was eligible. Gibson said this year’s award was especially meaningful.
“What got me is our staff still considers me a teacher and, in a lot of areas, that’s not the case,” she said. “It almost validated what I’m doing and the craziness that goes on here.”
Lesley Zavala, a sophomore, said Gibson works hard to help students.
“If we need any help with our projects, she is always there to help us,” Zavala said. “She knows everything about the computers.”
Karen Gibson, the media clerk at Chestatee, called her boss “a remarkable person to work for.”
“She just jumps in with both feet and whatever needs to be done, she does it,” she said. “There’s nothing that lady can’t do.”
Ashleigh Hinesley, a senior, said it has been “different but fun” to have her high school cheerleading coach running the media center.
“She isn’t there to just scan your books,” Hinesley said. “She cares about what you’re doing in your life, and she’ll ask you what’s going on. She seem genuinely seems interested in your life.”
As she finished her second year in the media center, Jennifer Gibson said her greatest challenge is “uninterrupted time.”
“Sometimes I have to sequester my time and go into a room,” she said. “There’s always something going on. Every day is different and, if it ever is quiet in here, it’s really creepy because it’s so unusual.”