A school is obviously made up of students, teachers and administrators, but all staff members at a building are responsible for the kids, and they all add to the students' education.
At Helper Middle School there have been some big changes in the art department and in the library in the last year. In fact the people running those areas recently got an award from the school district at a board meeting, and award called "Wrenovation."
Brittany Bentley took over the library the middle of last school year and this summer she worked with Principal Rob Bradley to change the look of her work space to a more open and colorful setting. When I came into the space it didn't look like a library to me," said Bentley. "It looked like a classroom and that is not where kids want to read. I think by what we have done we have made it more comfortable and fun for the students." She and others moved things around, particularly the shelving and some of the counters that were in the area, to make it more wide open. New carpet came into the picture as well and some fresh paint on the walls helped too. "We get a lot of kids in here in the morning before school starts," she said. "And a number of them are reading and not just hanging around. We have a lot of comfy spots for them to sit and they also visit and use the computers as well."
She said she is not a "shushing" librarian, ones that so many people grew up with.
"I am not a quiet person myself," she said with a smile. "I am okay with the kids making a little noise as long as it is respectful. It should be a quiet place when it needs to be, but mostly I want the library to be fun." That attitude goes along with the present day idea that libraries should become learning resource centers and not just quiet places where dusty rows of books exist. She said they have been using the district's reading leveling program to help kids select the right books for themselves.
Bradley said one of the school's main goals this year is to increase reading levels in the students. "We purchased a program called Reading Inventory that allows students to do a self assessment on their reading levels," said Bradley. "This lets us to track students growth in reading through the year as they are assessed. This entire change in the library goes along with our 100 Book Challenge that we have for the year with students at our school."
He said the changes in the library "dovetailed" right into that goal. There was also a lot of culling out of books, some of which had not been checked out since the 1960s. Bradley said that they actually found an old school board report from 1968 that went over all the programs in the district and it was very interesting to look at.
Over in the art department another huge change has taken place as Teri Passarella took over the program. "I have been teaching school for 18 years and it was all teaching first and second grade," said Passarella. "But I have a background in art and this is my first year teaching middle school." Passarella grew up in Helper and went to Helper Junior High, but as she put it her current classroom was a wood shop and "girls couldn't take wood shop in those days." She moved away when she joined the service after getting out of high school and ended up going to college at Fresno State University in Fresno, California. She then taught school in Clovis Unified School District in the Golden State for the rest of her years there.
After she moved back to Carbon County she taught at Castle Heights Elementary for three years. When she first came into her present work space the entire place was covered with hand prints of kids who had put paint on their hands and then put them on the wall.
"After about 14 gallons of paint and about 20 dumpsters of garbage we have the art room we have now," she pointed out. She now teaches five art classes and one CCA (technology and engineering class) as well as being the adviser on the yearbook for the school this year.
She has a year long project with her art students to paint small canvas' that finished will be hung up for the duration of that students time at the school. They then can taken them with them when they leave.
During the interview she showed one of the projects the students were working on, which was women's nylon stockings stretched over a wire frame attached to a wooden base. The students paint the stockings as they create a standing, sculpture-like piece of art. Some of those displayed show some great ideas and talent. "We all really need to look at our students strengths and build from those instead of always concentrating on their weaknesses," she said. "On all art projects I let the students give themselves 50 percent of their own grade. I provide boundaries on their projects, but as far a creativity, I let them go." She said she just wants kids to love art. "Many kids say 'I can't do art' or 'I hate art' but we try to change that perception in my classroom," she said. "I want them to love to express themselves, even when they don't think they can."