South Effingham Elementary Principal Cheryl Christain had a hard time at first finding the words to adequately describe the impact that her media specialist, Peggy Helmly, has on her students and her school’s environment.
According to Christain, all the descriptive nouns and adjectives that came to mind seemed to pale in comparison to the talented instructor and the model media program that is a result of Helmly’s “limitless creativity.” But once she found the right words to describe her valuable colleague and the SEES media program, the principal told the Georgia Department of Education that there was no person and no program more deserving of its Exemplary/Exceptional Media Program Award.
Her principal’s glowing letter of recommendation and Helmly’s narrative explanation of how her media center program helps meet school improvement goals and improve student achievement resulted in Helmly and the SEES media program being recognized by the Georgia Department of Education as a 2008 Exceptional Library Media Program. Helmly, Christain and Superintendent Randy Shearouse traveled to Atlanta to receive the award at the June State Board of Education meeting.
Because applicants are judged by their media program peers, Helmly said receiving the award was extremely meaningful.
“It’s wonderful affirmation that not only are we doing things right in the South Effingham Elementary media center,” stated Helmly, “but we’re also performing on the same level and better than our peers in the wealthier metro Atlanta schools.”
According to the narrative portion of Helmly’s application, “The SEES media center is now one of the oldest (and smallest) media centers in the Effingham County School System, but it is one of the most up-to-date.” Helmly added that “there is no wasted space in the SEES media center. Every square inch is used for housing materials, researching, teaching, planning, creating and pleasure reading.”
One of the award criteria was being able to prove a high level of quality and quantity of the services that the school’s media program provides its students, staff, parents and community. In response to this challenge, Helmly stated the following in her narrative:
“The South Effingham Elementary media center is the heart of our school. Not only is the media center physically located in the center of the school building, it is the center of activity for students, teachers, parents, volunteers and community members alike. On any given school day, the South Effingham Media Center will host hundreds of patrons, including students, teachers and parents who have come to check out books, browse the library collection, ask for advice, participate in instruction, hear a story or use the equipment. It is home to the impromptu teacher meeting, the volunteer group gathering, the class research project, the college student/professor interview, and the small or individual tutoring session. After the school day is over, the media center is the gathering place for student research and multimedia project creation, professional learning opportunities, faculty meetings, parent guidance and school clubs. What is even more important is that the South Effingham media center is at the heart of the instructional programs that take place at our school. Through the collaborative effort of the media specialist, administrators, the instructional supervisor, the counselor, support staff, teachers, parents and students, the media center provides the books, materials, facility and services that have contributed to the academic success the school has enjoyed over the past years. It is the hope and mission of the SEES media center to provide life not only to the SEES school community but to give life to the love of learning for many years to come.”
A life-long learner herself, Helmly holds a specialist degree in early childhood education, is nationally certified in media by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and is currently seeking a doctorate degree in curriculum studies with an emphasis in children’s literature. She has been trained to use 21st century classroom technology and is responsible for maintaining each of the classroom’s SMART boards and modern computers. Seventy-five percent of the SEES classrooms have SMART board technology.
Helmly said it is her belief that technology can connect all areas of learning and this is why increasing student participation in the Georgia Student Media Festival has been one of her major goals. In the past seven years, SEES has gone from sending only one project to the GSMF to sending nearly 30 projects. In addition, SEES has produced many International Student Media Festival winners. According to Helmly, participation in these festivals, which results in gaining academic knowledge and technological skills, has provided many students a chance to experience a world beyond Effingham County.
An Effingham County native herself, Helmly has been teaching at SEES since it opened its doors in 1985. She says that the support she receives from the school’s administrators, teachers and staff has always been incredible.
“No matter what I ask, within reason, they’re willing to participate and support my efforts,” explained Helmly. “They have been willing to ride horses, dress like queens, presidents, cowboys, space aliens and even villains. They have allowed helicopters, hot air balloons and pirate ships to come to the school. They even allowed the media center staff to build a classroom size igloo on the playground complete with snow.”
She also acknowledged her media clerk, staff members and parents who assist in the media center.
“Parent volunteers work in the media center throughout the school day, explained Helmly. “They assist in shelving books, organizing the bookshelves, the Accelerated Reader program, school reading celebrations and fundraising. It is the collaborative effort between the media center staff and wealth of volunteers that keeps the SEES media center a vibrant and vital part of the school.”
Christain compares that vitality to the oxygen that breathes life into a flame.
“Mrs. Helmly and her staff and multitude of volunteers generate and stimulate life within our instructional program, igniting a passion for learning within each student.”
And in describing how her media specialist goes above and beyond in her efforts to impact student learning and achievement, Christain said, “Peggy Helmly has certainly taught me through the years that if she can dream about it, it can be achieved. The words ‘we can’t’ are not part of her vocabulary, no matter how insurmountable the task seems.”
The public is invited to experience the “exceptional” creativity and enthusiasm found in the SEES media center at the school’s Book Fair Safari on Sept. 5-11. The media center will be open until 8 p.m. on Sept. 10-11 for after-hours shopping.
Safari guide Helmly and her “wild” friends will be looking forward to your visit.