COVID Can’t Stop Ms. Gutierrez From Nurturing Her Students’ Love of Reading

Many students are looking to escape the harsh realities of COVID-19. Online learning, social distancing, closure of many businesses and recreation areas, and the struggling economy has brought about a myriad of mental and physical health concerns for our students. But thanks to our Dale Jr. High library tech, Ms. Mirna Gutierrez, our students have finally found some refuge between the pages of their favorite books.

Most would overlook the importance of school libraries—especially in the midst of a pandemic—but after one conversation about literacy with Ms. Gutierrez, they would change their minds. I recall having such a conversation with Ms. Gutierrez about the role of school libraries in schools like Dale, where 91.7% of students are socially-economically disadvantaged and are situated in communities that tend to be fast food rich and library poor. For Ms. Gutierrez, libraries are a place of refuge where students come to research new things, get lost in a story and find a safe space to be themselves.

Ms. Gutierrez often talks about finding her own place in books. As a Guatemalan immigrant, she knows the struggles that many of our low-income first-generation students at Dale go through. She hopes that our students will find the same passion for knowledge and reading that has helped her find success in school and life. Ms. Gutierrez is a living testament that everyone can share in the ‘American Dream’ and she often shares her story with our students.

Ms. Gutierrez developed a website for students to be able to continue to check out books even though our community libraries are closed. She made sure it had a place on the school’s main website, and she gives regular book suggestions to students that highlight the students’ shared cultural experiences like “Marcus Vegas Doesn’t Speak Spanish,” “Front Desk,” “Brown Girl Dreaming,” “Roll With It” and “The Night Diary.”

She started a virtual book club where students can discuss the books they read and love, and connect with one another in a safe space that is often difficult to find while schools are physically closed. She also gives special attention to our English language learners, developing a special section just for them and ensuring they have a space in our library.

Ms. Gutierrez is the “Professor Dumbledore” of Dale Jr. High, guiding students to our very own virtual “Hogwarts” where they can escape the harsh realities of life under COVID-19, even if it is only for a few pages a day.

Many students find their home in books at Dale Jr. High thanks to our amazing library tech. Thank you to Ms. Gutierrez and all the school library professionals who continue this essential work with our youth when they need it the most.

Photo courtesy of the author.

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