The “high-service” media center is one in which the media specialist is skillfully juggling the internet, networks, cable TV, site-based management, and regular contact with the principal, along with traditional roles of research and recreational reading. It’s also one where there are lots of connections, both human and wired ones.

Karen Oberstein, as media specialist at West Miami Middle School, last year leveraged a cadre of students to support the technology—not just in the media center, but also throughout the school. Her secret weapon in addressing all these areas was to leverage students’ ability into help throughout the school.

Middle school students can enroll as “library aides” for a class period, but they did far more than check out and shelve books at West Miami. Oberstein created an internet aide program that involved more than 80 students in the school of more than 1,000 students in grades 6-8. These students also learned to conduct ‘net searches for information, and they learned about the district’s internet policies, what kinds of sites were allowable, and how to help others.

“They took their jobs so seriously that they would get upset if students went to an inappropriate site,” she said. “It became a personal thing if another student violated our school rules about internet use.”

Some of the students were available to do basic troubleshooting of equipment and could help classroom teachers during each of the six periods in the day after just three weeks of training. By the end of the school year, Oberstein said that she had fully trained 68 students in broad use of technology, library equipment, and the internet.

“I didn’t pick just the high achievers,” she emphasized. “I also took some students who had some behavior problems or were mildly learning disabled, students who could be worked with.” She said this practice opened up options to a wider range of students and even helped them improve their own learning.

Oberstein also tried to get parents involved, by hosting two Family Technology Nights with a 45-minute demonstration of software and internet sites. She posted highlights of those events and others on the school web site so the information could be used more widely than just inside the school.

West Miami had a full-time technology paraprofessional and a full-time library clerk as well as Oberstein, the full-time media specialist. A neighboring school, Kinloch Park Middle School, worked out a similar program; both the media specialist and the computer education teacher took turns working with a core group of students who were trained in media center technology, internet use, and networking operations.

Oberstein also created and updated the school’s web site with assistance from students. They used the school’s digital camera to document school field trips and put pictures on the site.

To continuously update the skill level of her students, she had a field trip or special activity once a month. Key partners in this monthly activity were technology vendors and staff from a local university’s computer center. For example, the students spent some time on one trip at the Florida International University library, learning better search skills. Expanding the world for these students has helped some to set goals for working toward college attendance and seeking information about technology-related careers.

To shift the burden for technology use to the classroom teachers, Oberstein recommended mentoring teachers. She offered in-service sessions from 7:45-8:45 a.m. throughout the school year, before school started at 9 a.m., so that teachers could learn to use the technology and resources of the school. Teachers were paid a stipend for that additional duty time, and they didn’t have to leave their classrooms in the hands of substitutes.

More importantly, Oberstein recommends mentoring colleagues as a way to jump start their integration of technology resources into teaching. For example, a science teacher learned PowerPoint and then scheduled her students for two days in the media center. Oberstein taught the first period, modeling the lesson for the teacher, who worked with individual students as necessary. Then the teacher taught the subsequent class periods on her own, with Oberstein assisting in the background.

“Teachers feel more secure with mentoring,” she reported, “because it’s not just a quickie workshop but really using their learning with students.”

Oberstein moved this fall to South Miami Senior High, a school where most of her West Miami Middle School students eventually will enroll. There, with the title “information scientist,” she will be in charge of all technology issues in the school. She is one of two full-time librarians in the media center, which also has a full-time clerk. The school also has a full-time technology specialist to address hardware issues and problems.

Oberstein is sure that new issues will arise and has already conducted a staff survey of what people know about technology and internet use in their content areas and what they would like to learn. She’s working with a team of others from the school to design a broad spectrum of training to meet the needs of the school staff and students.

“Accountability is the new component in the media center,” she asserted. “People putting money into equipment and resources for the media center need to show that this will make a difference in student learning.”

—R.O.