SELINSGROVE — Selinsgrove Librarian Debbie Barrick's integration of STEM activities with literacy and the arts helped earn her a spot as one of the 12 finalists for Pennsylvania's Teacher of the Year 2021.
Barrick said she has tried to make the library the hub of the school, "and not just a place that is based on books," she said.
Barrick has incorporated STEM challenges with basic computer science lessons.
She also brings "critters" into the library. "Each year we do a Monarch butterfly display. We bring in caterpillars. Kids see them transform into butterflies and then we release them. We also bring tadpoles, which turn into frogs."
Therapy dogs have also been part of the library programs.
"I don't know if these things might have impressed the judges, I guess," she said, laughing.
Barrick was flattered to be nominated and surprised that she made it to the semifinal round and then became one of the 12 finalists.
"I never dreamed I would make it to the final round," she said. "I was shocked when I opened the email and it said, 'Congratulations, you are one of the final 12.' This all still seems a little surreal to me."
The winner will be announced in December
"We are very proud and excited that Debbie has made it as a finalist for the teacher of the year award," said Michelle Garman, principal, Selinsgrove Elementary School.
"She thrives on helping our students develop a lifelong love of reading," Garman said. "Debbie brings science into the library with her STEM activities and the life cycles of many different species. Our library is a wonderful place for our students to develop a love of reading and that is due to all of Debbie’s hard work to keep our shelves filled with books that interest our students. This is an honor that truly reflects all of Debbie’s hard work and dedication to our students at Selinsgrove Elementary School.
Barrick grew up in Northern New Jersey and is a Bucknell graduate. She began in the Selinsgrove school system as a kindergarten teacher, for 14 years, and when a spot came open in the library, she took it and has been an elementary school librarian for 16 years. She also teaches related arts.
The transition from being a kindergarten teacher to librarian "was very smooth," she said. "I've always loved books and I've always had a passion for libraries. What I most enjoy is instead of having my little select niche of kids for an entire year, I now get to work with all the students in the building. I get to watch them grow and develop.
"As a librarian I think I can make more of an impact on, and connection with them. Especially impact their love of reading, develop their literacy skills."
Barrick is glad she was in the classroom first, "because I can relate to classroom teachers and offer them support and resources. I understand what it is like to be a classroom teacher. It was really beneficial to me to have that background first."
Right now, during the pandemic and school shutdown, she is helping teachers and students with distance learning.
She has participated in some fun events, like a virtual pajama party with second-graders, and a kindergarten class did a virtual drawing for mother's day.
"I'll definitely be glad when they open the doors back up for the students and we can all be together again," she said.
Barrick has done an outstanding job of demonstrating the qualities of a great educator, said District Superintendent Chad Cohrs.
"She is passionate about her students, colleagues, and education," Cohrs said. "She makes the subjects she teaches come to life and motivates students. She is certainly deserving of this honor and recognition."