Learning: Uniquely Alleghany Highlands

Learning: Uniquely Alleghany Highlands
Posted on 09/19/2023

Are There Heroes Among Us?

This year, as they develop reading, writing, thinking, and interpersonal skills, students at Sharon Elementary are focusing on what it means to be a hero. Kids across grade levels are engaged in reflection and reading about all kinds of heroes, from superheroes, to first responders, to parents – all through their library classes.

Lia Fisher-Janosz, school librarian at Sharon Elementary, is committed to helping students think big thoughts. This year, she is using the theme of heroes to help students more deeply understand reading and language arts concepts. She is also concentrating  on teaching students to connect with each other and engage with books.  

Through conversations in the library, students are learning how to ask truly intriguing questions about their heroes – an inspiring overall concept.  Fisher-Janosz will carry the theme throughout the year.  

In an activity early in the school year, Fisher-Janosz used a word association activity to  prompt students, asking them what first came to mind when they heard the word “hero.”  Student responses were gathered, forming a word cloud that featured Spiderman and Dad as  runaway leads in the list of people to admire. Looking at the word cloud led students to ask important questions about the concept of a hero and develop other areas for inquiry – truly research-oriented questions.  

“Hearing about this lesson, I was immediately encouraged by how deeply our students are being challenged to think,” said Kim Halterman, one of AHPS’s leaders. “I quickly thought, ‘Why, this is the scientific method, too!’”

A $3,000 grant Fisher-Janosz obtained from the American Library Association helped place Sharon on the map by drawing attention from Virginia Living — a statewide lifestyle magazine that is published bimonthly. In 2022, Virginia Living featured Sharon Elementary in the State of Education section of the magazine. The section recognized nearly 200 public and private schools in the Commonwealth.  Fisher-Janosz plans to pursue other grant and funding opportunities to further enhance the library’s facilities, materials, and programming.

Fisher-Janosz used the $3,000 Libraries Transforming Communities grant from the ALA in 2021 to fund a yearlong resilience-related program at Sharon. The program was designed to teach students how to bounce back from personal challenges. The success of her efforts was the main catalyst for Fisher-Janosz’s decision to use a central theme once again this year.

Fisher-Janosz is well-known in AHPS as an award-winning librarian who encourages the library to be a place of wonder, comfort, and enjoyment. The library features curated displays, evidence of student work, ways to meet sensory needs, and a forthcoming makerspace. Fisher-Janosz has served as the school’s librarian for six years, and in 2022 she was named as Librarian of the Year for the Roanoke Region of the Virginia Association of School Librarians. 

In November, at the organization’s annual conference, she will be sworn in as the region’s director-elect and will also be a presenter. Fisher-Janosz adds these accolades to a resume that already includes an additional honor from VAASL, the Dickinson Scholarship, and one from Longwood University; both acknowledge the high caliber of her work as a graduate student and a school librarian.

Speaking of the current heroes theme, Fisher-Janosz, commonly known as “Mrs. F-J” among Sharon students, commented: “Based upon my experiences, having a central theme provides continuity and a way for students to make connections across different subject areas. It also makes content and challenging concepts easier to understand.  The ‘big idea’ of heroes and heroism is particularly meaningful, as it places emphasis on humanity’s very best qualities, such as bravery, determination, empathy, selflessness…heroes can be found in every culture, every walk of life, and they are role models for all of us, a positive force in a world that seems to be increasingly negative and divided.”

Chris Jones, principal at Sharon Elementary, stated: ”I’m excited about the theme Mrs. F-J has chosen for this academic year’s library lessons: ’heroes and heroism.’ I think it will be an incredible journey of learning for our students.  The lessons will bring a new, deeper level of engagement to the curriculum. Whether it’s through literature, history, art, or community service projects, our students will really be able to connect with this theme.”

The texts involved in the studies of heroes range from stories about traditional superheroes to non-fiction works about rescue dogs to myths and legends to biographies and picture books about historical figures.

“It will be amazing to see where this study takes the students at Sharon and all the many insights they may gain about the importance of heroes in our lives.  We are truly proud of the creative efforts of the AHPS staff,” said Halterman.

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