Throughout the year, Teacher in
Spotlight will shine the light on teachers and staff who do
for our students and go above and beyond each and every day.
The spotlight is on Julia Serrano!
of the roughly 4,320 days that Julia Serrano has worked in
the Monticello Central School District, she says she’s never
had one where she didn’t feel like coming in. And if the
enthusiasm of her students is any indication, there has
probably never been a day where her students didn’t feel
like coming into her classroom, either.
For the first 20 years of her tenure at Monticello, Ms. Serrano taught at Kenneth L. Rutherford Elementary School, and later at George L. Cooke Elementary School. Four years ago she became a librarian at Cooke, and since then, her library has been known among the Cooke student body as not only the place to find a good book, but also the place for fun and imagination thanks to the Makerspace stations she has implemented.
To the naked eye, Makerspace stations are simply plastic tubs containing an assortment of items such as craft supplies, building blocks and crayons, but any person watching students engaged at a Makerspace project will quickly notice that students are developing critical problem-solving, team work and life skills as they play and build.
“Makerspace stations gives students the opportunity to tinker and to use their imaginations to solve problems,” Ms. Serrano said. “I’ve given older grades stations of toothpicks and marshmallows and tasked them with building a structure sturdy enough to hold a book. It’s entirely student-led, I don’t help them come up with a solution – the group has to use their reasoning skills, creativity and team work to solve the problem on their own. And they do.”
As a class of first-grade students files in to the library for their special period, there’s a distinct sense of anticipation in the air. Students begin to pepper Ms. Serrano with questions about what types of Makerspace stations are available today as soon as their toes touch the threshold. She gently corrals them to the side of the room and they oooh and ahh as she lists the Makerspace options of the day: they can create an obstacle course with marbles, create a holiday card for their families, build with legos, make a bookmark gift for a loved one, or color in some holiday coloring sheets. She tells them that when she calls the color of the shirt they are wearing, they can choose their station. As she calls out colors, the students eagerly flock to the stations and begin creating.
“I like coming here because we get to read and we get to do maker space which is really fun,” first-grade Cooke student Baya said. “I love reading.”
As the students are busy tinkering away, Ms. Serrano calls them up in groups to pick out a book. As they line up to check out, she chats with them -- complimenting their current book choice, asking how they liked the last book they checked out and inquiring about their plans for the holiday break. Aside from traditional paper books, students also have the option of checking out one of six kindles for a week and using an app called Overdrive to download and read books.
“There has never been a time when I’ve dropped into Ms. Serrano’s class where I haven’t been amazed at the level of engagement her students display,” Superintendent of Schools Tammy Mangus said. “Ms. Serrano’s encouragement and dedication combined with the excitement of the Makerspace station has students arriving at library eager to read, eager to tinker and eager to learn. It’s an educational trifecta, and we’re lucky to have her.”
There’s an element of play that makes Makerspace stations irresistible to kids and adults alike. Monticello’s Director of Technology pops into the library to update some computer software and before long, is working alongside students at the marble station to add some height and speed to the obstacle course. Aside from the ubiquitous fun nature of these activities, perhaps the best indicator of students’ love of tinkering is the library’s current book return rate. Students who have overdue or missing library books go to the “reading Makerstation” during library time, rather than one of the hands-on stations.
“All the kids want to be involved in tinkering and building so they have cleared up their accounts and are being 100 percent more responsible with returning books,” Ms. Serrano said. “We are making them much more responsible and holding them accountable, which all ties into being a life-long learner.”
We applaud you for being greater than the average!